by Dan Camp
Most of the time, we are given advice on what to EAT but forget that there are many types of drinks out there (and I’m not talking about just alcohol) that can blow your daily calories out of the water! It starts with soda…but ends up being a variety of other drinks that may not even cause our radar to go off, and some which may even seem “healthy.” If you Google “worst drinks in America” you can probably find a million different countdowns that go blow-by-blow what the highest calorie, highest sugar drinks are, but instead of worrying about a specific brand of this and that, I’m going to just give you an overview of the “types” of drinks you want to avoid.
We all know it’s not good for you, but why? First of all – sugar. A 20 oz. bottle of most sodas have over 60g of sugar, which is about 15 teaspoons of sugar! And we usually drink the whole 20 oz. bottle let’s be honest. Also, watch out for “black” sodas which have phosphoric acid in them. Phosphoric acid can clean rust off of a car engine, can wash a 100 year old penny and make it look like new, and will therefore eat away at the enamel of your teeth not to mention what it does on the inside!
Diet Sodas aren’t much better, as they mostly use aspartame, and artificial sweetener. Studies show people gain weight from diet soda, perhaps because the body is confused at the sweet taste but no true sugar delivery and therefore craves sugar more and possibly stores food differently. Another problem with diet sodas in particular is that their pH is nearly identical to the pH of the stomach, so they can cause acid reflux.
Again, sugar is the biggest culprit here, but also effectiveness. Anything with 50+g of sugar you have to wonder what kind of energy is this really providing? A short burst, like a Roman candle, followed by a crash. Your body can’t take in all that sugar and utilize it fast enough before it begins to be stored as fat.
Other ingredients in energy drinks tend to be caffeine and taurine. Taurine is an organic acid, found in some meats, but realistically the amounts of taurine in any energy drink is not enough to actually impact biology in any way, and most studies show it doesn’t have much of an effect on energy levels. Likewise, caffeine is fine in moderation, but you might as well get it from a cup of coffee as a natural stimulant.
“Beer is evidence that God loves us and wants us to be happy” – Ben Franklin. Yes, I have to agree. However, with beer you have a double whammy, because not only does alcohol carry empty calories, but beer is made with hops and barley and carries starchy carbs as well. In some ways, knowing this you might as well go for a quality beer instead of drinking Bud Light all the time, even though the B Light obviously has fewer calories – I’d rather have a beer with quality ingredients, it’s almost like thinking of it as the difference between white bread and a hearty whole grain bread with seeds on it.
Beer is about moderation, it’s easy to double your dinner’s calories by having several beers with it, so just be careful!
Milk Shakes are probably the highest calorie single entity among all pieces of food and cups of liquid in the world. The reason they are so thick and sweet is that the sugar used is Maltose – which are two molecules of glucose bonded with one another. Add high % milk fat, and you have one tasty treat – that can cost you an entire day of calories within 10 minutes.
For example, the PB&C shake, 24 oz. size, at Coldstone Creamery has 2010 (yes, I didn’t accidentally add a 0 there!), 68g of Saturated Fat and 153g of sugar in it. That’s basically 10 tbsp. of butter mixed with 40 tsp. of sugar and for many Americans, a day’s worth of calories! Just be wary, they taste delicious and you can gulp ‘em right down, but you are destroying your diet with one of these. I don’t care about my “Don’t let a bad day turn into a bad habit” sentence, if your day includes one of these shakes, you don’t have to worry about it becoming a habit, you’ve already done the damage!
Now, it takes a certain kind of person to order a 24 oz. shake, but the fact that one exists is preposterous! And a 16 oz. shake of the same flavor…well do that math, it’s still about 1350 calories.
Starbucks drinks – they are a common luxury. But not only will they rob your pocketbook, but they will destroy your diet. However, you can be smart. I personally love plain, black coffee, I guess I am just lucky, but that is what I always order at Starbucks. Avoid the drinks that have multiple pumps of sugary syrup and whole milk. Also, avoid the coffee drinks you can buy at the grocery store as they, too, are loaded with sugar. There are healthy treats at Starbucks: for example a skim cappuccino is a delicious beverage! And you know what, adding a tsp. of sugar to a coffee is not the end of the world, and in fact it is better than adding an artificial sweetener.
Sports drinks are basically all about the “when.” For athletes, replenishing the body with a high carbohydrate beverage with some electrolytes like sodium and potassium has been studied and shows a better impact in performance and recovery. But many sports drinks use high fructose corn syrup as their sweetener. If you are looking for a recovery drink, having 10g of protein is a nice touch, and also look for a sugar source that is glucose and/or maltodextrin instead of fructose. Fructose takes longer to absorb and be utilized and is primarily digested in the liver and can cause bloating during physical activity. So a sports drink is ok at the end of a workout, but rarely, if ever, needed any other time of the day.
My best advice to you – be label smart! Note that 4g of sugar = 1 tsp. of sugar, so calculate, even just for the visualization of it, how many teaspoons of sugar you are ingesting with your drink! While sugar is the main culprit, as you see above there are many other reasons these drinks are not good for you. When in doubt, have your cup of coffee in the morning and drink water throughout the day, you can’t go wrong!
[Editor’s Note: Dan Camp is a certified STRIDE Instructor and a certified Sports Nutrition Consultant who has raced with Spartan in Staten Island. Dan Camp’s posts from http://fitasylum.com/ will regularly be making an appearance on the Spartan Blog.]