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Many of us watch what we eat but not what we drink when on a diet. That's a mistake. The average American gets a fifth of daily calories from beverages. Choosing the right drinks can tweak your metabolism, curb your appetite, and reduce your total calorie count. Which drinks are spoilers and which are helpers on the path to weight loss?
Every time you chug a bottle of soda, you're consuming hundreds of empty calories. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, carbonated soft drinks are the single biggest source of calories in the American diet. Switching to diet soft drinks is an obvious way to cut calories, but it's unclear whether this switch results in weight loss. In some people, diet soda may increase their sweet tooth.
Replacing carbonated soft drinks with water will cut hundreds of calories per day, and the benefits don't stop there. Drinking two glasses of water before a meal may encourage the stomach to feel full more quickly, so you don't eat as much. In addition, new research suggests drinking plenty of water may have a positive effect on your metabolism.
Jury's Out: Fruit Juice
Juice can have as many calories as soda, but it has far more to offer in the way of nutrients. This presents a dilemma -- you want the vitamins and antioxidants without all the extra sugar. The safest bet: Look for 100% fruit juice. Steer clear of juice drinks that have added sweeteners. Look for the percent of real juice, noted on the nutritional label. You can also slash calories by drinking water with a tiny bit of juice added.
Helper: Vegetable Juice
Vegetable juice is every bit as nutritious as fruit juice with about half the calories. One cup of tomato juice has 41 calories, compared to 122 calories for orange juice. Choosing juice with pulp provides some fiber, too, which can help control hunger.
Jury's Out: Smoothies
Blend a banana, strawberries, and blueberries into a frothy smoothie, and you've got a delicious arsenal of disease-fighting vitamins and minerals. The homemade variety is best when you're counting calories, because you can control the ingredients -- skim milk and fresh or frozen fruit are all you need. Restaurant smoothies may contain ice cream, honey, or other sweeteners that boost the calorie count sky-high.
Jury's Out: Low-Fat Milk
Eating calcium-rich foods may do a body good, but calcium probably won't help you lose weight, new research now reveals. Some earlier studies suggested calcium may prompt the body to burn more fat, but there's little evidence to support these claims. To get the benefits of calcium without getting extra fat, stick to skim or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese.
Spoiler: Energy Drinks
Sports and energy drinks are calorie bombs like soda. They may have more added nutrients, but you can find the same vitamins and minerals in low-calorie foods. People who are serious about losing weight should stay hydrated with water rather than sports drinks.
Helper: Black Coffee
When you need a shot of caffeine, coffee is a better choice than soda or energy drinks. Black coffee is calorie-free and rich in antioxidants. Studies have shown that consuming moderate amounts of coffee (about 3 to 4 cups a day) may improve mood and concentration, and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and several types of cancer.
Spoiler: Fancy Coffee
Once you add heavy cream, flavored syrups, and/or a snowcap of whipped cream, that innocent mug of black coffee becomes a minefield of fat and sugar. Specialty coffees can contain up to 570 calories per cup -- possibly more than an entire meal! If you don't like your coffee black, add a little skim milk and artificial sweetener to keep the calorie count low.
Helper: Green Tea
Green tea is another excellent choice when you're looking for a little caffeine. Not only is it near calorie-free, some research suggests green tea may stimulate weight loss. It's not clear exactly how it aids weight loss, though caffeine and micronutrients called catechins may each play a role. The benefit appears to last only a few hours, so it may help to drink green tea at least twice a day.
Coolers may sound light and airy, but they are heavy on calories. A 12-ounce cooler containing wine can have 190 calories and 22 grams of carbs. The same size hard lemonade or bottled alcoholic "ice" can have as much as 315 calories. Regular wine is not exactly a diet drink, with 100 calories in a 5-ounce glass. A low-calorie alternative is a wine spritzer: mix a dash of wine with some sparkling water.
A shot of hard liquor has fewer calories than wine or wine coolers, but once you mix in soda or cream, watch outů An 8-ounce white Russian made with light cream has 715 calories. A less fattening option is to mix rum or vodka with diet soda.
Helper: Light Beer
OK, beer is not really going to help you lose weight. But if you're out with friends and want to share a pitcher, light beer is the way to go. A 12 oz serving has about 100 calories, compared to 150 calories for regular beer.
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