Food & Wine

5 low-calorie beverage ideas for an ideal summer

Updated: 06 Jul 2011
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Chances are when you reach for a cold drink this summer, it'll be a soda, sweetened tea, sugary lemonade or other high-calorie drink.

One out of four high school students drink soda daily, and two thirds consume either soda or other sugary drinks such as Gatorade, a recent government survey found.

Children and teens consume about 390 calories a day from beverages, says Barry Popkin, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and one of the nation's top experts on beverage consumption.

People, ages 19 and older, consume an average of 412 calories a day from beverages, including soda, fruit drinks, alcoholic beverages, whole and low-fat milk, juices and other calorie-containing drinks, his research shows.

Although some of calories come from healthy choices such as non-fat or low-fat milk, many of the beverages are empty calories with little or no nutritional value, Popkin says.

Nutritionists often encourage people to cut back on sugar-sweetened beverages. An eight-ounce glass of Coca-Cola, Sprite or Lipton Extra Sweet Tea is roughly 100 calories; a chocolate milk shake about the same size has almost 300 calories.

You can cut down on sugar and calories in beverages without sacrificing taste, dietitians say.

Here are some low-calorie summer beverage ideas:

Infused water: You can create your own infused water by taking a pitcher of cold water and adding sliced fruit, vegetables or herbs such as cucumber, pear, mint, orange, lemons, limes, mangoes or strawberries and basil, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietitian in Chicago and author of The Flexitarian Diet. "It's a quick and visually-inviting way to get a high-flavor beverage that's virtually calorie-free."

Simple juice spritzer: Another refreshing low-calorie beverage is a simple real-juice spritzer, Blatner says., Add a shot glass full (1½ ounces) of your favorite juice such as grapefruit, pineapple, orange or pomegranate juice to eight ounces of club soda or sparkling water, she says.

Lo-calorie watermelon lemonade: Or you can cut the calories in lemonade in half by making a watermelon lemonade, To do that, puree four cups of cubed, seedless watermelon with the juice from three lemons and pour it over ice. One cup of this watermelon lemonade has only 50 calories, half the calories of traditional pink lemonade, she says."It has 45% of the daily requirement of vitamin C and contains no added sugar versus the more than six teaspoons of sugar per glass in traditional lemonade."

Juicy ice cubes: Or freeze 100% juice in fun-shaped ice cube trays (hearts, stars, fish) and float them in glasses filled with naturally flavored seltzer, says New York dietitian Joy Bauer. The frozen juice cubes "add color and fun and a shot of flavor when they melt," she says.

Try a variety of tea: Try making home-brewed iced tea with different types of tea other than plain black — that way you get lots of flavor without any calories, says Jessie Price, food editor of EatingWell magazine. "Then if you want, enhance the flavor without going overboard on added sweeteners. Instead, add fresh herbs like mint or tarragon and a little splash of fruit juice for sweetness and flavor."
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