By PATTY HAMMOND
Special to the OBSERVER
Summer weather is finally here, and that means a lot of us, or those we love, would like to shed a few pounds before putting on our more revealing warm weather clothing.
How many calories do your favorite summer drinks contain?
When you start thinking about losing weight, it suddenly seems like everywhere you look there's someone who can't wait to give you weight loss advice. Sorting through all that advice can be overwhelming, but if you really want everyone you love to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, one easy thing to do is to take a long hard look at what your family is drinking.
Most people are shocked when they take the time to look closely at what they're drinking. That's because most of us think only about the calories in the food we eat, not in the liquids we drink. However, the total number of calories in your diet coming from drinks can add up very fast, especially if you drink a lot of high calorie beverages.
It's so easy to grab a can of this or a glass of that and start swigging away. Very few of us take a second to notice the nutrition facts label on our beverages or to ask for this information from restaurants when we order beverages. If you did, you'd likely find that you're often drinking as many calories as you're eating, and in some cases you may actually be drinking a lot more calories than you're eating.
For instance, did you know that according to a very popular fast food restaurant's nutrition information, which you can easily find on their website, their 20 ounce Chocolate Milk Shake contains 980 calories, 24 grams of fat and 150 grams of sugar? Yikes! Yet many of us are so busy this time of year that we find ourselves eating at fast food restaurants more often and we don't always pay as much attention as we should to the choices our families are making.
It really isn't difficult to make healthier choices, whether your family is shopping for beverages in a grocery store, or when they're eating somewhere other than your home.
When you're purchasing beverages in a store, take the time to read nutrition facts labels. If you're at a restaurant simply ask if they provide calorie counts for their foods and beverages. Many restaurants do these days and are happy to provide that information to those who ask. If you'd rather not ask, take a look at their website before you head out. You could also ask your kids to do this research for you. You can make it a challenge. Ask them to find the beverage with the most calories and the one with the least. You could also make it a learning experience by showing them how to analyze the other nutrition information they find. Then have them consider the advantages of drinking one beverage when compared to another.
You also need to pay attention to how much you're drinking. Consider the size of each drink and how many glasses, cans or bottles you typically drink in a day. That's very important because more beverage equates more calories. This provides another chance for a learning experience for your kids. Have them tally up the calories in all of the beverages they drank in a specific day and come up with ideas to reduce their tally the next day.
While it is best to look at the calorie count in every beverage you drink, let's face it, that's not always possible, especially if what you're drinking is purchased and poured by someone else. However, you can generally assume most beverages fall into a certain calorie range and use what you know about similar beverages to make more informed choices. Take a few minutes right now to estimate how many calories you typically take in from what you drink by comparing the 12 ounce size of some common beverage choices:
Many people also wonder about milk, fruit juices and diet sodas.
Milk is good for you. It contains lots of vitamins and nutrients, but it also contains calories. A good way to reduce your calorie intake and still get the nutrients in milk is to choose low-fat or, better yet, fat-free milk. Keep in mind that an eight-ounce cup of whole milk contains 150 calories while an eight-ounce cup of fat-free milk contains only 90 calories. That's a big difference if you drink a lot of milk.
Juice is also good for you, in moderation. It's always better to eat your fruit rather than drink it, because you will also get all the benefits of the fruit's fiber, but if you love a glass of juice now and then, go for it. Just remember that 12 ounces of 100% apple juice contains 192 calories and 12 ounces of 100 percent orange juice contains 168 calories. If you pour more than 12 ounces, fruit juice calories can really add up fast.
Just don't be fooled by fruit punch. It usually contains far less nutrition, more sugar and the same number of calories as apple juice. Lemonade is not much better for you than fruit punch and it has the same number of calories as orange juice. If you love the flavor of fruit, why not make the healthier choice and drink 100% juice?
On to diet soda. Only you can decide if diet soda is right for you. There are many thoughts on the artificial sweeteners used in diet beverages. For instance, a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who drank more diet soda than the average person were also more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. The diet soda drinkers had an even higher incidence of type 2 diabetes than those who drank regular soda pop. Studies like this one make many people wonder if there are better choices than diet beverages for those wanting to lose or maintain their weight. The good news? There are.
The best choice you can make is to just start drinking more water. Water is your friend. If you need to dress up your water with a little flavor, add a slice or two of lemon, orange, lime, cucumber, or watermelon. Yum. You can also try unsweetened carbonated water or unsweetened sparkling water with natural lemon flavor. Plain tea or black coffee can also be good choices. These are all zero calorie options. Or, for just a few calories more, you can add a splash of 100% fruit juice to seltzer water.
Yet when a fancy drink craving hits, you can still reduce the calorie count of some of your other favorite beverages by simply drinking less. If you're ordering out, ask for the smallest size or get an extra cup and share with a friend or family member. If your drink is made with milk or cream, use fat-free milk instead. You'd also be wise to avoid extra syrups, sugar or decorating your drink with whipped cream.
Remember, when it comes to what you drink, you always have a choice. Just make sure that your family does too. Don't load your fridge with sugar-sweetened beverages. Keep a jug or bottles of cold water inside instead. Even better, make sure everyone in your family carries a water bottle everywhere they go. They're easy to refill throughout the day.
Making small changes in beverage choices can make a huge difference over time in the battle of the bulge. Start replacing some of those high calorie drinks with other lower calorie options today. Take control of what you and your children drink and don't forget that one of the most important things you can do is be a good role model. Choose healthy, low-calorie beverages yourself.
It's time to "Rethink your Drink." You can find lots of low calorie beverage ideas at Choosemyplate.gov and healthy beverage recipes using the recipe finder tool on the USDA website.
If you are struggling to make ends meet, you may be eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program. SNAP helps low-income people buy nutritious food and beverages. The U.S. Department of Agriculture knows that a healthy diet will likely reduce health care costs, so it is putting healthy food within everyone's reach. To find out more about SNAP benefit eligibility call 1-800-342-3009, apply online for SNAP benefits at www.mybenefits.ny.gov/, or contact your local social services district.
Patty Hammond leads Family and Consumer Science Programs at Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County. Her column is published on the first Sunday of each month in the OBSERVER.