While it's important to stay hydrated, beverages brimming with extra calories can add up to extra pounds. Choose beverages that have the fewest calories and the most nutritional advantages.
Drink plain water more often. It's calorie-free, healthful and readily available. Many flavored waters are loaded with sugar. Be sure to read the nutrition facts label and ingredients list. Labels can be deceptive if you don't do the math. For example, if you're not sharing that 12-ounce bottle of flavored water, you will consume two servings instead of one, and twice the calories. If water isn't your first beverage of choice, try alternating high-calorie drinks with plain water.
Make your own infused flavored water minus the calories. Add fresh citrus slices from oranges, lemons and limes or crushed fresh mint. For those who like fizzy, go for sparkling water and a splash of fruit juice.
Is your fruit juice 100-percent juice or is it filled with sweeteners? If the front of the container doesn't state 100-percent juice, it has added sweeteners such as sugar, sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose and honey. Read the ingredients list, and don't be deceived by the pictures on the front of the label. Read the fine print. If you choose a fruit drink, fruit punch, fruit cocktail, fruitade or other fruit beverage, you might be consuming as little as 10-percent juice and a lot of added sugar and natural flavors, which gives the beverage the taste of fruit.
While 100-percent juice provides healthful nutrients, it can be too much of a good thing. Don't fill up on juice in place of other healthful foods and try diluting juice with water if you prefer a flavored beverage.
Coffee drinkers often switch to the iced varieties in hot weather. The ice does not dilute extra sugar calories from flavored syrups and fat calories in whipped cream toppings. Try drinks with fat- free or low-fat milk, or plain iced coffee. Though plain iced coffee may not be as much fun, it's a better choice even if you add a spoonful of sugar.
Tea can be a calorie-free beverage. Black or green tea, caffeinated or decaffeinated, and herbal teas offer variety. Most bottled teas are high in calories (read the label), but your own home-brewed, unsweetened, iced tea is easy to make and low in calories. Teas that are fruit-flavored or have added cinnamon, vanilla or other spices taste sweet with few or no calories. For extra zip, add citrus zest. If you add a teaspoon of sugar or honey, you will only add about 15 calories. Or, try calorie-free sweeteners.
Enjoy your favorite cool, low-calorie beverages as summer days turn into fall days. Take advantage of the beautiful outdoors to compensate for extra calories you might consume. Having fun in the sun, biking, hiking, and walking burns off calories, and gives you another reason to look forward to liquid refreshments.
Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.