You Are What You Eat: Soda, coffee and booze – a trio of trouble

By Katy Wilkens, MS, RD

Sugary soda, flavored coffee drinks and alcohol have a problem in common with fruit juice. They don’t make us feel full, so when we drink their calories, we still eat just as much. And since they often come in 16-, 24- or 32-ounce sizes, they increase our tendency to drink two, three or even four servings at a time.

Soft drinks used to be a treat, like a candy bar or an ice cream cone. You might have one once in a while, on a special occasion. Now, 90 percent of children and teens drink sweetened beverages every day. Most are at least double servings, which means the calories are doubled too, coming in at 200 to 350 calories each. Drink one every day, and you’ll gain two pounds a week.

In the 1970s the average teenage boy drank five glasses of milk a day and one soft drink. Now, many teens drink four or five sodas a day, and one glass of milk. When they get older, they will be at high risk for bone disease because they are substituting empty-calorie soda for milk, which is rich in calcium and vitamin D.

It’s not just teens and their Big Gulps we need to worry about. Adults pick up an extra 300 to 600 calories, as well as loads of fat and sugar, with a typical milk-based, flavored coffee drink. One of those a day and you will gain a pound a week. They don’t fill you up, and you won’t eat any less. Try having your coffee plain, or order it with nonfat milk and sugarless syrup. That will cut the calories from 580 down to 150.

Liquor is another high-calorie culprit. Alcohol packs a whopping 7 calories per gram, compared to sugar’s 4 calories per gram. A glass of wine or beer before dinner clocks in between 150 and 200 calories. Dessert wines and beers with more carbs are even higher. Hard liquor is about 100 calories per shot, but when you add the sugary mixture of a margarita, you pump it up to 350 calories.

The solution? Try light beer or nonalcoholic wine. Have one drink instead of two. Or choose regular beer or wine rather than mixed cocktails with sugary syrups. Try this low-calorie punch for a kick.

Punch with a Kick

4 cups cranberry juice, no sugar added
4 tablespoons freshly grated ginger (roughly a 4-inch piece)
1-2 limes, juiced
3 cups club soda, chilled
1 ounce rum per serving, optional

Bring juice and ginger to a simmer for about 20 minutes, or until ginger becomes fragrant. Add lime juice. Cool in refrigerator until chilled. If desired, strain out ginger and lime pulp. Pour into ice-filled glasses. For an alcoholic kick, add 1 ounce rum per glass.

Nutritional information (per 1-cup serving):
Calories: 70 (167 with rum); Carbohydrates: 15 g; Sodium: 12 mg

Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. She has a Master of Science degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Washington. See more of her recipes at www.nwkidney.org.

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