When it comes to weight loss, there’s no lack of diets promising fast results. There are low-carb diets, high-carb diets, low-fat diets, grapefruit diets, gluten-free diets, cabbage soup diets, and blood type diets, to name a few. But no matter what diet you may try, to lose weight, you must take in fewer calories than your body uses. Most people try to reduce their calorie intake by focusing on food, but another way to cut calories may be to think about what you drink.

What Do You Drink? It Makes More Difference Than You Think!

Calories in drinks are not hidden (they’re listed right on the Nutrition Facts label), but many people don’t realize just how many calories beverages can contribute to their daily intake. As you can see in the example below, calories from drinks can really add up. But there is good news: you have plenty of options for reducing the number of calories in what you drink. Substituting no- or low-calorie drinks for sugar-sweetened beverages cuts about 600 calories in the following example.

Occasion Instead of… Calories Try… Calories
Morning coffee shop run Medium coffee with 4 tablespoons of coffee creamer 140 Small coffee with 2 tablespoons of coffee creamer 77
Lunchtime combo meal 20-oz. bottle of sugar-sweetened soda with your lunch 227 Bottle of water or diet soda 0
Afternoon break Sweetened lemon iced tea from the vending machine (16 ounces) 180 Sparkling water with natural lemon flavor (not sweetened) 0
Dinnertime A can of sugar-sweetened ginger ale with your meal (12 ounces) 124 Water with a slice of lemon or lime, or seltzer water with a splash of 100% fruit juice 0 calories for the water with fruit slice, or about 30 calories for seltzer water with 2 ounces of 100% orange juice.
Total beverage calories: 671 70-100

Of course, not everyone drinks the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages shown above. Check the list below to estimate how many calories you typically take in from beverages.

Type of Beverage Calories in 12 ounces Calories in 20 ounces
Fruit punch 192 320
100% apple juice 192 300
100% orange juice 168 280
Lemonade 168 280
Regular lemon/lime soda 148 247
Regular cola 136 227
Sweetened lemon iced tea (bottled, not homemade) 135 225
Regular ginger ale 124 207
Sports drink 99 165
Unsweetened iced or hot tea 2 3
Black coffee 2 3
Diet soda 0 0
Carbonated water (unsweetened) 0 0
Water 0 0

Milk contains vitamins and other nutrients that contribute to good health, but it also contains calories. Choosing low-fat or fat-free milk is a good way to reduce your calorie intake and still get the nutrients that milk contains.

Type of Milk Calories per cup (8 ounces)
Chocolate milk (whole) 208
Chocolate milk (2% reduced-fat) 190
Chocolate milk (1% low-fat) 158
Whole Milk (unflavored) 150
2% reduced-fat milk (unflavored) 120
1% low-fat milk (unflavored) 105
Fat-free milk (unflavored) 90

Sugar by Any Other Name: How to Tell Whether Your Drink Is Sweetened

Sweeteners that add calories to a beverage go by many different names and are not always obvious when you look at the ingredient list. Some common sweeteners that add calories to your drinks are listed below. If these appear in the ingredient list of your favorite beverage, you are drinking a sugar-sweetened beverage.

  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Honey
  • Sugar
  • Syrup
  • Corn syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Dextrose

Better Beverage Choices Made Easy

Now that you know how much difference a drink can make, here are some ways to make smart beverage choices:

  • Choose water, diet, or low-calorie beverages instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Experiment with tea flavors and combinations to flavor water, hot or iced, to your liking.
  • For a quick, easy, and inexpensive thirst-quencher, carry a water bottle and refill it throughout the day.
  • Don’t “stock the fridge” with sugar-sweetened beverages. Instead, keep a jug or bottles of cold water in the fridge.
  • Serve water with meals.
  • Make water more exciting by adding slices of lemon, lime, cucumber, or watermelon, or drink sparkling water.
  • Add a splash of 100% juice to plain sparkling water for a refreshing, low-calorie drink.
  • When you do opt for a sugar-sweetened beverage, go for the small size. Some companies are now selling 8-oz. cans and bottles of soda, which contain about 100 calories.
  • When you opt for juice, make sure it is 100% juice, and try adding water. It will taste delicious but it will have less calories.
  • Be a role model for your friends and family by choosing healthy, low-calorie beverages.

Thanks CDC for these helpful calorie reduction tips!