Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on November 16, 2021
Don’t Let Your Drinks Trip You Up

Don’t Let Your Drinks Trip You Up

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If you’re counting calories, it’s important to watch what’s in your glass as well as what’s on your plate. Choosing the right beverage -- and keeping an eye on how much you pour -- can help curb your appetite and cut calories. 

Best: Water

Best: Water

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Replacing sweetened soft drinks with water will cut hundreds of calories from your diet each day. Drinking two glasses of water before a meal may also help you feel full faster, so you won’t eat as much. It can help speed your metabolism, too.

Best: Skim or Soy Milk

Best: Skim or Soy Milk

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Beverages that are low in calories but high in nutrition are good options when you’re trying to lose weight. Skim and soy milk both fit that bill. Plant-based milk substitutes, like almond milk, typically have fewer calories than cow’s milk but less protein, so they’re not necessarily better for weight loss.

Best: Green Tea

Best: Green Tea

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It’s an excellent choice when you’re looking for a little boost. Not only is it calorie-free, but some research suggests green tea extract may help with weight loss. It's not clear exactly how, but caffeine and micronutrients called catechins may each play a role. The benefit appears to last only a few hours, so it may help to enjoy some green tea at least twice a day.

Best: Vegetable Juice

Best: Vegetable Juice

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Vegetable juice is as nutritious as fruit juice, with fewer calories. One cup of tomato juice has 41 calories, compared to 122 for orange juice. Choosing juice with pulp gives you some fiber, too. That may help control your hunger.

Vegetable juice does have a lot of sodium. If you buy your vegetable juice from a store, go with a low-sodium variety if you can.

Best: Black Coffee

Best: Black Coffee

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When you need a shot of caffeine, coffee is a better choice than soda or energy drinks. Black coffee is calorie-free and rich in antioxidants.

Studies show that drinking moderate amounts of coffee (about 3 to 4 cups a day) may improve your mood and help your concentration. It could also lower your chances of type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

Worst: Specialty Coffees

Worst: Specialty Coffees

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A 12-ounce caffe mocha can be almost 300 calories, and a vanilla latte can come close to 200. But if mochas or lattes are your thing, you can make a few changes to keep the calories in check. Most coffee places offer sugar-free syrups, or you can special-order your drink with skim milk. And be sure to skip the whipped cream.

Worst: Soda

Worst: Soda

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Every time you chug a bottle of this, you get hundreds of empty calories. Switching to diet soft drinks can cut calories. But research is mixed on whether this switch helps you lose weight. If you eat or drink more calories than you burn, just sticking to diet soda may not do the trick.

Worst: Specialty Cocktails

Worst: Specialty Cocktails

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Party drinks like margaritas or mai tais can be heavy on the calories, especially when you don’t make them yourself. The key with cocktails is to skip mixers like soda, juice, or premade cocktail blends. Instead, sip on something simple, like vodka and club soda. A 1-ounce serving of vodka ranges from 70 to 100 calories, and club soda doesn’t add any calories. If you need more flavor, try a spice-infused vodka.

Worst: Mocktails

Worst: Mocktails

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Alcohol-free doesn’t mean calorie-free. Mocktails can be high in sugar and calories, depending on the fruit juices used to make them. If you want a fancy drink without the alcohol, look for ones made with sparkling water and flavored with herbs and spices instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Be Careful: Kombucha

Be Careful: Kombucha

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This is fermented tea blended with sugar and a culture of bacteria and yeast. An 8-ounce glass typically has about 30 calories. It’s said to have several health benefits, including a hand in weight loss. But scientists are still studying it to find out for sure.

Be Careful: Beer

Be Careful: Beer

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This isn’t really the ideal beverage if you’re watching your weight, but a 12-ounce bottle or can of light beer won’t typically give you more than 100 calories. A regular 12-ounce beer is usually about 150. When it’s poured from a tap into a 16- or 20-ounce glass, though, that number can climb up to 250. Craft beers can also have more calories.

Be Careful: Wine

Be Careful: Wine

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A typically 4-ounce glass of wine usually has around 100 calories, though types can vary in calories and alcohol content. Also know that glasses and pours are often much larger than 4 ounces. If wine is your adult beverage of choice, watch the pour or slim it down by mixing it with a no-calorie beverage. For example, you can cut the calories in half with a wine spritzer that’s half wine and half club soda. 

Be Careful: Energy Drinks

Be Careful: Energy Drinks

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While the active ingredient here is caffeine, these usually have other things in them like vitamins, herbal supplements, creatine -- and sugar.

If you’re watching calories, you’ll want to check the label carefully and look for ones without added sugar. The ones that show the amount of caffeine can let you know exactly what you’re getting.

Be Careful: Fruit Juice

Be Careful: Fruit Juice

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Juice can have as many calories as soda, but it has more nutrients. This presents a dilemma: You want the vitamins and antioxidants without all the extra sugar. Look for 100% fruit juice. Steer clear of juice drinks that have added sweeteners. Check the nutrition label for the percentage of real juice. You can also slash calories by drinking water with a tiny bit of juice added.

Be Careful: Smoothies

Be Careful: Smoothies

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Blend a banana, strawberries, and blueberries into a frothy smoothie, and you’ve got a delicious drink. Make your own, so you can control the ingredients: skim milk (or an alternative, like almond milk) and fresh or frozen fruit are all you need. Restaurant smoothies may include ice cream, honey, or other sweeteners that boost the calorie count sky-high.

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SOURCES:

Heather Mangieri, registered dietitian nutritionist, Pittsburgh.

Food Source Information, Colorado Integrated Food Safety Center of Excellence: “Kombucha.”

Center for Science in the Public Interest: “Which Alcohol Packs the Most … and Least … Calories.”

Red Robin: “House Margarita,” “Tropical Mai Tai.”

Starbucks: “Caffé Mocha,” “Blonde Vanilla Latte.”

Poe Center: “Drink More Water.”

The Nutrition Source: “Sugary Drinks.”

Journal of the American College of Nutrition, February 2010.

Archives of Internal Medicine: “Coffee, decaffeinated coffee, and tea consumption in relation to incident type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review with meta-analysis.”