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Are you drinking empty calories?


Posted by Cags R under Nutrition on 4 January 2013 at 12:00 AM

Reading labels for nutritional informationThis is the time of year when everyone becomes far more calorie conscious, label checking for nutritional content becomes totally acceptable in the supermarket as we try to make more educated decisions about our food.

Lots of hard work goes into the first couple of weeks of the year to make this year the year we stick to our resolution to become healthier. So why do so many of us 'fail' our diet resolutions before we even reach February?

Whilst we can become fixated on the calories in our food, we often forget the other source of calories in our diet - drinks!

The term 'empty calories' is often used in relation to the calories we consume in soft drinks and alcoholic drinks; empty calories are considered to be calories which bring little/no nutritional value to the diet or calories which take you over your daily recommended allowance. Empty calories will often be overlooked when planning a diet plan, even though identifying and cutting down on empty calories is an excellent way to lose weight and improve your health. 

Let's have a look at the calories in some popular drinks - both alcoholic and soft - and see if you can identifty where you may be taking on empty calories:

  • 330ml can Coca-cola - available in over 200 countries, Coke is probably the most recognisable brand in the world. One can of Coke has 139 calories - all of which derive from the huge amount of sugar in the drink. If you consider yourself a bit of a Coke addict then take the Challenge of No Coca-cola for one month so you can break the habit and see Coca-cola as a treat rather than a life staple!
    Amount of sugar in Coke - Coca-cola
  • Tropicana contains 94 calories per 200ml servingTropicana Orange Juice (smooth style) - a typical serving of 200ml of Tropicana is 94 calories - that's more than if you drank the same amount of Coke! Although orange juice will provide vitamin C, folic acid and fibre, if you are attempting a low carb diet then you should avoid drinking it.

    There are many mixed messages about whether or not orange juice is good for you - as with most things, moderation is key; orange juice is an easy source of vitamins and a glass in the morning with a high fibre breakfast is an excellent way to start your day. Fresh is best so try to have freshly squeezed juice or smoothies and check out Kurt S's Challenge to add fresh ginger to improve your juices.

    Mountain Dew 12oz can contains 170 calories
  • Mountain Dew 12oz (~350ml) - one can of Mountain Dew contains 170 calories the majority of which is from High Fructose Corn Syrup, adding up to 15% of your daily sugar allowance. High Fructose Corn Syrup (also in Coke and most full-sugar soft drinks) has been labelled by Dr Lustig (who works at the University of California's Centre for Obesity Assessment, Study and Treatment) as toxic.

    Not only that, but this refreshing beverage also comes with 3% of your salt allowance - and what does salt do? That's right, it makes you thirsty! 

  • Glaceau Vitamin Water Essential Orange Flavour - this is a product which is being marketed as a health product, there are vitamins (C, niacin, pantothenic acid, B6, D) and minerals (calcium lactate, calcium gluconate), which add more to your nutrition than plain old H2O. However with these vitamins and minerals, there is also 70 calories per 500ml serving and 15g of sugar. Always remember to check on the labels if you are unsure whether a drink contains calories and sugar!
    Vitamin water orange flavour

  • Starbucks coffee sizesStarbucks Cappuccino - with so many different options in Starbucks nowadays, it can be slightly overwhelming to say the least - short, tall, grande, vente, fully skimmed, semi-skimmed, whole milk, chocolate spinkles - the list seems endless!

    This massive range of choices also comes with a range of different calorific content; your cappuccino could be 54.7 calories (short, fully skimmed milk) or it could be 192.2 calories (venti, whole milk). This is just the cappuccino range - once you're finished adding a shot of butterscotch and whipped cream on top you've technically had most of your calories for breakfast and lunch!

  • Guinness - often referred to as 'a meal in a glass', this famous Irish stout has actually got a worse reputation for its calories than you'd imagine. Guinness has iron in it which is good if you suffer from anemia however half a pint would suffice to give you a good iron top up. 

    One pint is 210 calories and 2.3 units - compare this to a pint of draught Budweiser and you'll find that the 2 are identical for calories!
    Guinness pint with clover

    So perhaps the lesson here is that all beers are meals (or at least big snacks) in a glass!

  • Heineken - another big international brand which can be found in around 170 countries worldwide, Heineken is stronger than Guinness or Budweiser and packs 227 calories and 2.8 units into each pint.

  • Coors Light - a firm favourite in the US which became the second highest selling beer in the US last year (after Bud Light). So how light are these light beers?
    Bud light and Coors light - other beers
    One pint of Coors Light has 182 calories whilst Bud Light has 176 calories - so Bud Light will save you 6 calories per pint. 

  • AlcopopsSmirnoff Ice - if you're partial to the ocassional alco-pop, bear in mind that one 275ml Smirnoff Ice has 157 calories and 1.1 units of alcohol. This is only 3 calories more than a Bacardi Breezer, whereas a WKD of the same size is 184 calories. These high sugar alcoholic drinks can definitely add empty calories to your daily allowance if you drink them on a night out.

  • 13% Red Wine (250ml large glass) - one large glass of red wine is roughly 200 calories and 3.3 units of alcohol, something to think about when you're having a quiet night in! It can vary between different wine - a Campo Viejo Rioja is only 170 calories whereas a Tierra Del Rey Cabernet would be 225 - check the labels to check up on how many calories are in your wine choices.
    Red wine pouring into a glass

  • 12% White Wine (250ml large glass) - it's no different with a weaker white wine, an average of 200 calories in one large glass. Blossom Hill Californian White clocking in at 185 calories whilst The Regions Chardonnay has 213 calories per large glass.

So what can you do to avoid consuming empty calories? Check out these 5 tips to avoid drinking empty calories, go to the Drink Aware website and see how many calories your favourite drinks have in them as well as what your average night really looks like!

  • Encourage

    encouraged this.



    Great info. I ran into this when I worked as a Barista in collage, people did not seem to realize how many calories were in the various drinks. I spent a slow afternoon figuring calorie counts, it was worse than I thought it was. I literally watched people gain eight over time just from the drinks. I stick to the occasionally coffee, tea and water.


    Great info. I ran into this when I worked as a Barista in collage, people did not seem to realize how many calories were in the various drinks. I spent a slow afternoon figuring calorie counts, it was worse than I thought it was. I literally watched people gain eight over time just from the drinks. I stick to the occasionally coffee, tea and water.

    Jane H and Rebecca R encouraged this.


    I use water as a substitute. If I crave a glass of coke or ginger ale, I just have a glass of water with a drop of lemon, lime or orange instead. It has worked so far. PS.. have it COLD...very COLD. It is known to stop cravings too :D Jack.

    Jane H and Cags R encouraged this.


    I found cutting out my second cup of coffee and changing to green tea during the day saved me nearly 400 calories a day! I can't drink my tea/coffee black so the milk and sugar I was adding adds up quickly. I'm just not ready to give up my first cup of coffee each morning.

    Nuchi N and Nicole R encouraged this.


    I am really concentrating on increasing my water intake, can't go very wrong there! I have an earl grey tea, one coffee and the rest is water each day.

    Nuchi N and Andy D encouraged this.


    I used to drink a lot of Glaceau vitamin water. Then I realised the sugar content so I stopped. I did manage to quit but once in a while when I am stressed, psychologically my mind is craving for it. If I really crave for it, I will mix it with water half half. The problem with this kind of drink is that you don't realise how much sugar is in there until you actually read the label. They surely do not taste that sweet at all.

    Andy D encouraged this.


    its the wine for me, two glass's of an eveningis around 400 calories, thats an lot of empty calories, even if I only have it a couple of times a week. I will try to cut down to 1 glass, or half and half with soda.

    Nuchi N and Andy D encouraged this.


    I also actually totally cut off orange juice once I realise its sugar content too. What I do is to take vitamin C tablet every morning dissolved with a big glass of water for vitamin C intake.

    Andy D and Adam K encouraged this.


    Even with some of the products, there can be big variations in term of the calorie and sugar content. For example, yesterday I got 2 bottles of Vitamin water (they are on offer - 2 for £2 only so I couldn't resist). The power C one only has 65 calories and 15g of sugars while the Spark with vitamin B and Guarana has a whooping 95 calories and 23g of sugar.


    I think another dangerous kind of drink are the 'diet' or 'light' version. They appear to be a better choice due to low calorie and sugars. I just picked up Oasis Light with sandwich for lunch and this one has only 16 kcal and 2.6g of sugars (per bottle). But what people don't realise is that it contains sweeteners which are actually not that good either. I will have to mix this with water to feel less guilty ;-)


    I agree with you @nuchi - diet drinks look appealing but I am always pretty dubious about how they still have such a sweet flavour. I am definitely guilty of consuming empty beer calories and am still partial to the occasional coke but I try and make Coke a treat like a chocolate bar rather than for hydration.


    Pleased I've decided to take no alcohol in January challenge! Thanks for the article.

    Adam K encouraged this.


    interesting stuff, glad i usually have water, milk or weak squash


    Luckily I have never liked fizzy or soft drinks....I drink green tea and water most of the time! Do enjoy cup coffee first thing in morning and occasional glass red definately not an angel!!


    Love the article it is something that my clients always seem to struggle with. I love my green tea & have water bottles all over the house. Never have sugar in my coffee anymore (tastes better as is :-)) and if I want a fizzy drink these days its sparkling water with a slice of lemon or a sliced strawberry.

    Cags R and Anne T encouraged this.


    The amount of sugar in drinks is scary.


    Thanks for the info! I find it hard to find the balance between having a good time and not over drinking when I go out - once I start and get a little tipsy it can be hard to stop. I find a spirit with a diet mixer is good for me! (plus I like sweet things ;) ), and then alternating alcoholic drink with water.

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