When we’re trying to lose weight, we’re diligent about tallying up the number of calories and the amount of fat in the food we eat, but many of us forget to add on our intake from the drinks we have.
Unless we drink just plain water, some of our calories will come from drinks. Even a few cups of tea with milk per day can rack up hundreds of calories over a month, but speciality coffees with syrups, cream and toppings can be even more calorific than the food we eat, especially if they feature regularly in our diet.
Experts warn it’s not just the obvious drinks that are scuppering our weight-loss hopes. Most of us know fizzy drinks like cola and soda are high in sugar, but the drinks we thought were healthy, such as fruit juices and smoothies, can be sugar-laden too, and they’re getting the thumbs down – or at least a warning – from nutritionists. Food psychologist Marisa Peer, author of You Can Be Thin (Sphere), says all those milky coffees and so-called health drinks can notch up an extra 2,000 calories a day, without us even being aware of them.
“We get a lot of calories from our drinks,” says Marisa, “and they’re usually the wrong calories. Even low-cal drinks are so full of nasty chemicals they put our bones, teeth and future health at risk.
“We think we’re being healthy when we serve our children fruit juice, but the acid in it rots teeth, and especially children’s teeth because they are weaker than an adult’s.”
Victoria Tipper, a nutrition coach at Dubai Herbal and Treatment Centre, says in Dubai men are less likely to drink their calories than women, but many people enjoy drinking in coffee houses because they’re sociable places and stay open late or even 24/7.
“I often see people ordering the more calorific coffee drinks, such as the lattes or frappuccinos, with added whipped cream and flavoured syrups,” says Victoria. “Drinking these regularly can be a slippery road to steady weight gain.” Turn over for more information on which drinks contain the most calories...
The good news: The milk in a latte provides about 200mg of calcium, roughly a quarter of our recommended daily intake, which is good for our bones. A black coffee with no sugar has about 15 calories.
The bad news: Even a plain latte made with full-fat milk has 180 calories and 9g of fat.
“The flavoured coffees, such as the white chocolate mocha with whipped cream, have more than 600 calories in them,” says Victoria. “A frappuccino with hazelnut cream and whipped cream has about 400 calories. They also have about 25g of fat, which is a higher fat content than a Big Mac!
“Coffee causes an increase in the stress hormone cortisol, and it will make someone who is already stressed even more agitated.” Cortisol is a fat-storing hormone and four coffees in quick succession can increase our blood pressure and raise cholesterol.
Victoria adds: “Arabic coffee typically isn’t sweetened, which makes it a better choice than many other sweetened beverages. It is the added sugar that leads to slow and steady weight gain. People don’t realise as they don’t count the calories they drink. The traditional way to serve Arabic coffee is with dates, which adds a sweeter dimension.”
The good news: A black tea has no calories, and even if you fancy a drop of milk in your cuppa, it’s only 25 extra calories.
Victoria says: “Black, green and white teas are a great source of catechins, which are antioxidants.
“Green tea helps weight loss by increasing thermogenesis [use of food for energy] and fat oxidation in the body. White tea is powerful at fighting off chronic disease – the longer you brew your tea, the higher the level of antioxidants in your cup!”
The bad news: “Two spoonfuls of sugar in eight cups of tea a day will cost you 240 calories, which would be better invested in more nutritious foods, such as fish or eggs.”
Victoria adds: “Unfortunately, masala tea often contains sugar, with some adding quite a lot per cup. It is also often served with milk, which also contains sugar in the form of lactose. The high sugar content can easily contribute to weight gain, particularly when this tea is consumed several times a day, which is often the case.”
The good news: Smoothies are made with whole fruit and they count towards our five-a-day of fruit and vegetables. The fibre in them makes us feel full. Orange pith has anti-cancer properties and the pectin on apple skins can lower our cholesterol.
The bad news: We think we’re being healthy when we grab a smoothie from the supermarket shelf, but if we stopped to check the label, we’d find many of them contain 200 calories and about 10 teaspoons of sugar – a small sugar mountain!
Shona Wilkinson, head nutritionist at NutriCentre (www.NutriCentre.com), says: “Fruits tend to contain much more natural sugar than vegetables do, and too much of any sugar can have negative consequences for our weight, the health of our liver, hormone balance and our mood and brain health.”
Marisa points out the more sugar we take in, the more insulin we make, and this could put us at risk of type 2 diabetes, especially if we’re overweight and have a sedentary lifestyle.
The good news: A milkshake made with half a cup of sliced banana and a cup of skimmed milk contains 160 calories, and it is a good source of heart-healthy fibre and protein. It’s a healthy alternative to breakfast if you’re in a hurry.
The bad news: Shop-bought milkshakes with added butterscotch, caramel and chocolate are high in sugar, additives and preservatives. A small strawberry milkshake from a fast-food chain contains 495 calories and 15g of fat, while those made with chocolate ice cream and peanut butter can have an astounding 1,500 calories.
“They are very calorific,” says Victoria, “and they often contain lots of ice cream, which pushes up the fat and sugar content. There’s nothing wrong with having one as a treat occasionally, but they shouldn’t be something a person drinks regularly to quench their thirst.”
The good news: Fresh fruit juice is rich in vitamin C, which is vital for the immune system and for healing, and helps us to absorb iron from food.
The bad news: Victoria says: “A glass of freshly squeezed orange juice may contain the juice of four or five medium oranges, yet no one would eat the number of oranges in one sitting. Such high sugar [about 15 teaspoons] can take its toll on blood sugar and put people at risk of heart disease, hypertension [high blood pressure], dyslipidaemia [an abnormal amount of fat or cholesterol in the blood] and type 2 diabetes.”
Rupert Allen, lead dietician at The Lister Hospital in London, says high-sugar foods can cause tooth decay, especially if they’re consumed regularly as a snack, and people who have a high-sugar diet tend to consume less of other nutrients.
And always check the label, because the pasteurisation process to preserve fruit juice strips it of most of its nutrients.
Why fizzy drinks are fattening
Victoria Tipper says fizzy drinks are the most popular beverage in the UAE, and many people have at least three a day, yet a large cola at a fast-food chain is 300 calories – that’s the same as a junior whopper burger!
“Such fizzy drinks are full of high fructose corn syrup, and the high fructose content needs to be processed by the liver. The extra burden on the liver can lead to a condition called fatty liver, which can then develop into disorders like diabetes and heart disease.
“Many people swap their normal soda for the diet version, thinking it’s healthier, but diet sodas contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, which is a carcinogen.”
Marisa Peer says there are seven teaspoons of sugar in a can of coke, yet the liver can’t store more than three teaspoons in a day so the fat ends up on our legs, arms, bottoms and chins! And the phosphoric acid that gives fizzy drinks their bubbles eats away at our tooth enamel and leeches calcium from our bones, putting us at risk of osteoporosis. For proof, she recommends putting a chicken bone in a glass of coke and seeing it shrink over time.