Unsweetened teas. Unsweetened teas -- those that are already bottled -- and homemade iced or hot herbal teas can be great calorie-free options. Black and green teas also have proven health benefits, such as decreasing your risk of cancer and lowering cholesterol. Many herbal teas taste sweet enough on their own, so you don't need to add any extra sugar or honey. If they don't, try adding a small amount of 100 percent fruit juice for a delicious blend. Teas come in many family-friendly flavors, such as berry, orange, and cinnamon, so you have plenty of options to try. When buying bottled teas, be sure to check the nutrition labels to make certain they have no calories.
Sports drinks. Sports drinks are very popular among kids, due in large part to great marketing and advertisements. Sports drinks contain only about 50 to 80 calories per 8 ounces, making them lower in calories than juices, fruit drinks, and soda. They don't, however, offer the nutritional benefits of 100 percent fruit juice, vegetable juice, or milk -- so drink them only occasionally. Water is still the best fluid choice for any activity that lasts less than 60 minutes, making it ideal for a typical workout. Water also won't replace the calories that you're working to burn off!
Perhaps some of your favorite drinks aren't described above -- and for good reason. Here's the skinny on some other popular drinks that you'll want to avoid.
Diet soda My tendency is to recommend eating real foods and avoiding artificial sweeteners and fat replacements, such as aspartame and Olestra. Aspartame, a common sweetener in diet soda, has been linked to migraine headaches, among other adverse health reactions. In addition, there is a small amount of preliminary research indicating that your body releases insulin in response to artificial sweeteners. The release of insulin causes your blood sugar levels to drop and therefore makes you hungry. Trying to decrease the amount of sweeteners you use, whether they're natural or chemical, is the best bet. However, allow yourself to enjoy your favorite sweet occasionally, made with real sugar. If you choose to drink diet soda or use artificial sweeteners, do so in moderation (once or twice a week).
Coffee drinks With the rise of the chain coffee houses has come the popularity of creamy coffee drinks that are chock full of sugar and calories. A 16-ounce café mocha averages 300 to 350 calories, while a 16-ounce frozen coffee drink can have anywhere from 300 to more than 500 calories, depending on what "extras" you have added. Whipped cream alone can add more than 100 calories! Bakery treats such as banana bread, muffins, and scones have, on average, between 350 and 450 calories, while a caramel sticky roll or slice of coffee cake can have upwards of 700 calories. Yikes! You could easily get more than half of your daily calorie allowance from your coffee break.
Fortunately, you don't have to forgo your treat. There are many lower-calorie choices, such as a small café latte or cappuccino made with fat-free milk (about 120 calories). You could also try a 12-ounce Chai tea with fat-free milk for about 170 calories. Choose from a selection of herbal teas or, of course, plain old zero-calorie black java. And instead of the muffins or cake, try a crunchy biscotti for around 120 calories.
Alcohol Alcohol is another underestimated calorie source. A 12-ounce beer, a 7-ounce glass of wine, or a 2.5-ounce martini each adds around 150 empty calories. And that can double if you're drinking a tall glass of a creamy mixer such as piña colada. Also, alcohol tends to lower your inhibitions, so you are more likely to take a few extra bites of dessert. In addition to contributing to extra weight, alcohol has been shown to have differing effects on your health. Moderate amounts of red wine (one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men) have been shown to lower the risk of coronary heart disease. However, research has also shown that alcohol in higher amounts can be a contributor to cancers of the breast, esophagus, stomach, and colon. Use judgment and moderation when fitting alcohol into your meal plan.