Many sweetened drinks are high in calories and can cause weight gain, even in active people. If you feel like drinking something sweet, try to choose a beverage that is made with non-nutritive (or sugar-free) sweeteners. You can also add flavor to plain water or seltzer with fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, or a splash of juice.
Drinking a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages can increase your overall calorie intake and may cause you to gain weight. Even though these drinks are just liquid, they can add a lot of calories to your diet. And, because liquids do not fill you up as much as solid foods do, you probably will not eat any less at your next meal. Examples of the calories in some popular sweetened drinks are:
- A 16-ounce (480 ml) latte with whole milk has 270 calories.
- A 20-ounce (600 ml) bottle of non-diet soda has 220 calories.
- A 16-ounce (480 ml) glass of sweetened iced tea has 140 calories.
- A 16-ounce (480 ml) Hawaiian Punch has 140 calories.
- A 16-ounce (480 ml) Ocean Spray Cran-Apple juice has 260 calories.
- A 16-ounce (480 ml) sports drink has 120 calories.
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting added sugars to less than 10% of your daily calories. The American Heart Association recommends that most American women consume no more than 6 teaspoons, or about 100 calories, of sugar per day; for men, it's 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons. Read the ingredients and watch out for drinks that are high in sugar. Sugar can go by many names, including:
- Corn syrup
- High fructose corn syrup
- Agave syrup
- Brown rice syrup
- Evaporated cane juice
How About Fruit Juice?
Fruits contain many important vitamins and other nutrients, but drinking too much fruit juice can add extra calories to your diet and can lead to weight gain.
A 12-ounce (360 ml) serving of orange juice has about 170 calories. If you are already getting enough calories from the other foods you eat, an extra 170 calories a day can add up to 12 to 15 pounds (5.4 to 6.75 kg) a year.
If you like to drink juice, consider diluting it with water. Try to limit juice to 8 ounces (240 ml) or less per day. Whole fruits are a better choice than fruit juices because they contain fiber and no added sugar.
Watch out for Those Coffee Drinks!
Coffee drinks you have on the way to work and during coffee breaks can add plenty of extra calories and saturated fat, more often if you buy ones that have flavored syrups, whipped cream, or half-and-half added.
All of these examples are for 16-ounce (480 ml) drinks. You can buy these drinks in smaller and larger sizes, too:
- A flavored Frappuccino has more than 250 calories. With whipped cream, it has over 400 calories.
- A nonfat mocha has 250 calories. With whipped cream, it has 320 calories.
- A mocha made with whole milk and whipped cream has 400 calories.
- A latte made with whole milk has 220 calories. With 1 flavor added, it has 290 calories.
- A hot chocolate made with 2% milk has 320 calories. With whipped cream added, it has 400 calories.
Healthier Coffee Choices
Order regular coffee and add only nonfat or 1% milk or a fat-free. You could also order an unsweetened latte made with skim milk. Use a sugar substitute if you like your coffee sweet.
If you have a special coffee drink now and then, following these tips will cut down on the calories:
- Order the smallest size available. Skip the whipped cream on a mocha or hot chocolate and save about 100 calories.
- Syrups and other flavorings add about 50 calories per tablespoon. Skip it if you can or ask the server to use only half as much.
What You Could Drink Instead
It is important to consume enough water to stay hydrated. Skim or low-fat milk are also healthy choices.
Some beverage choices that have 0 calories are:
- Diet soda
- Sparkling water with natural flavors, such as lemon, lime, and berry
- Plain coffee or tea
Obesity - sweetened beverages; Overweight - sweetened beverages; Healthy diet - sweetened beverages; Weight loss - sweetened beverages
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Nutrition info about beverages. www.eatright.org/health/weight-loss/tips-for-weight-loss/nutrition-info-about-beverages. Updated January 2018. Accessed September 30, 2020.
Mozaffarian D. Nutrition and cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. In: Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann, DL, Tomaselli GF, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 49.
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf. Updated December 2020. Accessed December 30, 2020.
Review Date 8/20/2020
Updated by: Meagan Bridges, RD, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.