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How Does It Affect Your Weight Loss Program?

So what is your favorite beverage? Is it water? Or something different - something like pop, coffee, fruit juice, etc...?

In this day and age, chances are the number of those who answer "water" will be less than 10%, and soft drinks will make up the bulk of the answers. As such, soft drinks emerge as an important part of our daily diet, and also a potential source of hidden calories. This page analyzes the most common soft drinks and other non-alcoholic beverages - from the point of view of their calorie content and overall impact on a weight control diet.

Non-Alcoholic Beverage
Pop & Derivatives:

To get straight to the point, let me start out by saying that regular pop is an abundant source of unnecessary calories. The main offending agent in these drinks is the high content of sugars (bad carbs of high glycemic index).

  • Regular pop (including Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola, Sprite, Dr. Pepper, etc) brings in 100 calories and 27 gram of sugars per 8 fl. oz serving. As such, a 12 oz can of regular pop brings in 150 calories and 40 grams of sugars.
  • Fruit sodas (such as Sunkist, etc) are even more caloric: An 8 fl. oz serving brings in 120-130 calories with 35 grams of sugar, and the 12 oz can brings in 180-195 calories with 52 grams of sugars.
  • Fortunately, many zero-calorie alternatives are available, some of which actually taste decent: For example, Pepsi One (sweetened with Splenda) has a taste which I myself find preferable to regular Pepsi. According to the label, it brings in just 1 calorie per 8 fl. oz.
    As a general rule, products sweetened with Splenda (which is a non-digestible isomer of sugar) are likely to taste closer to regular products (sweetened with sugar). However, there are significantly fewer products sweetened with Splenda on the market than products sweetened with Aspartame. Among the products containing Aspartame, I find Coke Zero to have an acceptable taste.
  • Root Beer is comparable to Fruit Sodas in calorie content: an 8 fl. oz serving of regular Root Beer brings 120 calories and 31 grams of sugar. And of course, Diet Root Beer can be found on the same shelf, containing zero sugars and zero calories.

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Non-Alcoholic Beverage
Water Derivatives:

  • Tonic Water brings in 90 calories and 22 grams of sugar per 8 fl. oz, while Diet Tonic Water is a zero calorie drink.
  • Flavored Water (e.g., Crystal Light, etc) brings in a negligible calorie amount, usually 0-5 calories per serving, and therefore is a good choice in a weight control program.
  • Another good choice containing zero calories is Sparkling Water.

Non-Alcoholic Beverage
Fruit Juices:

Fruit Juices bring in a significant amount of calories, which in my opinion negates any other health benefits they may have. Consumed as a substitute to water, these beverages are likely to pack on the pounds. The average fruit juice brings in 120-180 calories, with 22-35 grams of sugar per serving (8 fl. oz). Even unsweetened fruit juices (with no added sugar) bring in as much as 120 calories and 26 grams of sugars per serving. Lemonade brings in 90-130 calories per serving, with 30 grams of sugars.
Reduced Sugar Fruit Juices are available, with a more reasonable calorie content. For example, 'Healthy Balance' fruit juices from 'Old Orchard' contain 30-40 calories and 6-9 grams of sugars per serving (8 fl. oz).
The general conclusion, however, is that Fruit Juices are questionable for weight control purposes. They should be consumed in moderation and infrequently, if at all. (Fresh Fruit are definitely preferable to fruit juices: For a much lower calorie content, they deliver all the natural vitamins in unaltered form, along with a high fiber content which is lost in fruit juices.*)

* Note: Contrary to fresh fruit, most fruit juices are very low in fiber.

Vegetable Juices such a V8, containing 50 calories and 8 grams of sugars per 8 fl. oz, are acceptable as part of a weight control program.

Non-Alcoholic Beverage
Ice Tea:

Iced Tea, although more reasonable than other soft drinks, still contains more sugars than we'd like to ingest. Typically, one bottle of regular ice tea brings in 60-80 calories, with 15-21 grams of sugars. Low calorie ice tea is available, bringing in about 40 calories and 7 grams of sugars. Unsweetened ice tea, a zero calorie drink, is of course the preferred option for weight control. It can be sweetened to taste using a zero-calorie sweetener such as Splenda.

Non-Alcoholic Beverage
Iced Coffee:

  • Iced Coffee (Starbucks brand, available in 11 oz can) contains 100 calories and 22 grams of sugars per can.
  • Other coffee products such as Starbucks Mocha and Starbucks Frappucino are significantly more caloric (180-200 calories), and should therefore be avoided in a weight control diet.

Non-Alcoholic Beverage
Energy Drinks:

Many Energy Drinks (such as 'Red Bull' or 'So Be') are low in calories, i.e. 10 calories per can, and have zero sugar content. They are sweetened with Aspartame, and according to the label contain multiple vitamins, coenzymes, and other energy factors. How much of an energy boost these drinks will provide probably depends on the individual. Anyway, for weight control purposes they are acceptable. Energy Drinks should not be confused with 'Energy Juice Drinks' (for instance, 'So Be Orange Juice'), containing about 120 calories and 28 grams of sugars per serving. The latter have no role in a weight control program, so be careful to read the nutrition labels.

Non-Alcoholic Beverage
Coffee and Tea:

  • Coffee and Tea, with nothing else added, are zero-calorie drinks. They can be sweetened to taste using Splenda or Aspartame (zero-calorie sweeteners). Or, one teaspoon of regular sugar can be used, which brings in about 15 calories. Non-dairy creamers can be added, with negligible calorie content. As such, coffee and tea are 'free' items in a weight control program, meaning they can be consumed at your heart's discretion*. If drinking more than 3 cups a day, consider using zero-calorie sweeteners rather than sugar, to avoid racking up the calories. Also, consider using decaf products (at least part of the time), to limit caffeine consumption. If you are a tea drinker, keep in mind that green tea has many health advantages over regular tea.
  • Many Coffee Drink Mixes are available in various flavors (Cafe Mocha, French Vanilla, Hazelnut, etc). These should be consumed in moderation, since their sugar content is higher than ideal, and they also contain saturated fats. Sugar-free alternatives are available for certain products and definitely preferable for weight control purposes (e.g., sugar-free Cafe Vienna from General Foods International - 30 calories per serving, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams sugars).

Note: Both coffee and tea have a mild diuretic effect. Up to 3 cups per day, this effect is generally not noticeable. Higher amounts, however, especially in conjunction with strenuous exertion, may put one at risk for dehydration.

*Note: Caffeine consumption may occasionally be associated with increased blood pressure or irregular heart rate. Therefore, the prudent course of action for individuals with heart disease is to avoid excessive caffeine consumption. Switching to decaf products will prevent this risk.

Non-Alcoholic Beverage
Hot Chocolate:

Hot Chocolate is a questionable item for weight control. A wide variety of products is available, ranging in calorie count from 50 calories to 200 calories per 8 oz cup. Most of these products contain 1-3 grams of saturated fats, and over 20 grams of sugars. Of course, adding milk to your hot chocolate will increase the calorie count. Reduced fat and sugar versions are available, however the taste seems to deteriorate the healthier the product (at least in my opinion). Diet Swiss Miss brings in only 25 calories per cup, with zero fat and 2 grams of sugars, however I found the taste less than satisfying. The best compromise I could find was Nestle Carnation Hot Cocoa Mix, with 80 calories per serving, 2 grams saturated fat and 13 grams sugars (presuming it is prepared with water, not milk).

Non-Alcoholic Beverage
Diet Shakes:

Diet Shakes such as Slim Fast may work for some people, but in my opinion are a questionable weight control product. Why? The reason is simple: With 17 grams of sugar, their glycemic index is bound to be rather high, so hunger can recur shortly after consumption. Since the Slim Fast plan relies on having one shake for breakfast, one for lunch, and a sensible dinner, success is dependent on being hunger-free throughout the day. In my experience, 2 diet shakes are insufficient to control hunger until dinner time. This may be in part due to their liquid consistency, which is insufficient to fill up the digestive tract. Anyway, even if you make it through to dinner time, you are likely to be so hungry that you end up overeating.

Note: All calorie counts are approximate.


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