We all know water is the number one drink to quench your thirst. But when you’re in the mood for a little something more, you might order up a juice, cocoa, margarita, or iced tea. Problem is, those choices can be deceptively high in sugar and calories—and in some cases, you’d be better off drinking a soda. Sugary drinks make up almost half of all added sugar in the average American’s diet, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. That’s why making smarter choices about these sips can pay off big time for your waistline and your health. Here are 15 places to start.
You’d think juice would be healthy—it’s made from fruit, after all. Problem is, while fruit is rich in fiber, juice is not. So even if you opt for 100% fruit juice and avoid drinks with added sugar (like cranberry or grape cocktail), they’re still high in the sweet stuff. For instance, a cup of grape juice contains 36 grams of sugar and a cup of apple has 31 grams—not far off from what you’ll find in a can of lemon-lime soda, which racks up 44 grams.
Make over your drink: “I don’t recommend juice ever, even 100% fruit juice,” says Ilyse Schapiro, RD, author of Should I Scoop Out My Bagel? ($11; amazon.com). “You’ll feel much more full from eating the fruit, which has fiber, versus drinking the juice,” she says.
The sip is practically necessary on a chilly winter day (post-snowball fight, natch), but keep in mind that it’s more of a dessert than an afternoon snack, says Chicago-based nutritionist Renee Clerkin, RD. A typical 16-ounce mug with whipped cream packs 400 calories and 43 grams of sugar—more than a can of cola.
Make over your drink: When you need a winter warm-up, Clerkin recommends DIYing a mix of non-Dutch processed cocoa and sugar. That way, you control the amount of sweetness. Start with one teaspoon of sugar and gradually increase the amount to taste. (One teaspoon contains 4 grams of sugar.) Adding spices like a dash of cinnamon or cayenne will add even more flavor, allowing you to use less sweet stuff.
SWEETENED ICED TEA
Tea is no doubt a good choice; it’s full of disease-busting antioxidants. But syrupy-sweet iced teas contain a wallop of the white stuff, practically canceling out the health benefits. One popular brand has over 30 grams of added sugar in one bottle. Yep, that’s more like dessert.
Make over your drink: Unsweetened iced tea is your best bet, whether you’re getting a bottled or at a restaurant, since it contains zero added sugar. If plain is too bitter, Schapiro suggests adding 1 teaspoon (or one packet) yourself—it will still be less than a pre-mixed tea. Squeeze a lemon or orange on top for an additional flavor boost.
FLAVORED COCONUT WATER
Part of the reason coconut water is so hot right now is because it’s packed with electrolytes, like potassium; one 16-ounce container supplies more than 25% of the mineral you need in a day. “Electrolytes are minerals that help keep the body’s fluid levels in balance so that the body is hydrated,” says Clerkin. “You probably don’t need to sip coconut water all day, but it can be helpful if you’re sweating a lot during the summer or activity,” she says. Read labels carefully, though. Flavored versions, like pineapple or mango, can pack more than 30 grams of sugar per 16-ounce container. Some have less because they use calorie-free sweeteners.
Make over your drink: Stick to plain coconut water, says Clerkin, which doesn’t contain added sugar. “Drink it when you need to hydrate, not just casually throughout the day,” she says. “Remember it still contains calories.”