29 May 2012 Better Beverage Choices for a Hot Summer Day

Most of us are aware of the problem of "drinking our calories" – we add extra calories without compensating with a reduced intake of calories from food. Drinking water is the most direct way to hydrate during a hot summer day but sometimes we simply want something different. So, what do we choose if we want to curb calories yet still get some flavor or pizzazz?

Seltzer water. You can have your fizz without calories. In addition to artificially sweetened fizzy beverages that are calories-free (e.g. soda pop, diet energy drinks, etc), there is simply seltzer water. If you love the fizz but don't want all the extra chemicals from diet drinks, why not simply go for seltzer water with a slice of citrus fruit (e.g. lemon, lime, orange) or fresh mint leaves from your garden? Or, use only 1/4 cup of 100% juice (about 25 calories) in a larger glass of seltzer water to get a flavored beverage with a fraction of the calories. For those who prefer savory over sweet, consider vegetable juice with seltzer water instead.

Iced Tea. Why pay someone else a fortunate for bottled iced tea when you can make it yourself for pennies? If you want a little pick-me-up, then try iced black or green tea for a calories-free treat that is also loaded with antioxidants. If you are trying to match the caffeine content of typical sodas (e.g. colas), then go with black tea (about 50 mg per cup). If you prefer a gentler buzz, then go for green tea (about 20 mg per cup). If you prefer no caffeine at all, then go for herbal or decaffeinated teas. Many herbal teas have a naturally sweet taste without any added sugars: mint, ginger, and spicy herbal tea blends (e.g. Good Earth's Original Sweet & Spicy Blend).

Iced Coffee. Like tea, coffee is calories-free and high in antioxidants. The caffeine content is quite a bit higher than tea – a shot of espresso contains about 80 mg caffeine whereas a cup of weak drip coffee contains about 150 mg per cup. If you want to tame the bitter edge, consider adding skim milk (80 calories per cup), light or unsweetened soy or rice milk (70 calories per cup), or unsweetened almond milk (40 calories per cup) if you make your own. If you buy coffee at a chain or coffee house, then go "skinny," (saves about 40 calories), use the smallest size container (e.g. Short 8 fl oz vs. Grande 16 fl oz cuts total calories in half), and specify "no whip" (saves 70 calories). Avoid coffee "dessert drinks" - just browse Starbucks nutrition information to see why.

What about alcoholic beverages? Alcohol is dehydrating and high in calories (7 calories per gram of alcohol). But sometimes a cold alcoholic drink is desired so it is good to have lower caloric options. All else being equal, an alcoholic drink that touts a lower percentage of alcohol will be lower in calories too (e.g. light beer). As well, mixed drinks made with non-caloric beverages and only one shot of alcohol will be a lot lower in calories than those made with caloric beverages and multiple shots of alcohol. Be sure to match your intake of alcoholic beverages with equal amounts of water to avoid getting dehydrated, especially on a hot summer day. And for you microbrew lovers, best to read my post on the calories of these gems.

Do you need a sports drink to hydrate? Unless you are exercising continuously for an hour or more or sweating profusely while working and don't take breaks, most of us do just fine by drinking water to hydrate, and then relying on consuming foods to replenish electrolytes (e.g. sodium, chloride, and potassium) and carbs. Save your money and calories – leave sports drinks for aerobic endurance activities where they serve a useful purpose.
Katherine Isacks, MPS, RD, CDE
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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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