As a Culinary Nutritionist, I’ve done nutrient profiling for thousands of recipes. Beverages are the ones that have almost always managed to surprise me – to say I was shocked when I worked out the calories of a matcha frappe would be an understatement!
For the quantity of matcha served (about 300ml), it had 600+ Kcal, which is the equivalent of a meal. And most people would have an additional consumption or bite with this. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, except when it’s consumed by someone who’s got a generally sedentary lifestyle – and the majority of us fall into this group unfortunately). Your drinks could start from the 0-5 Kcal black coffee to a 1,000+ Kcal milkshake (at times even more), and everything in between based on the ingredients used and quantity served.
It’s a total letdown considering these are marketed with an illusionary health halo. People miss the point that these are sometimes even higher in calories than a meal, especially when presented as containing the goodness of trending ‘superfoods’ like matcha, turmeric, and dark chocolate.
1. Specialty Coffees
We agree that the real deal with coffee is black (Americano) coffee. If you are going out to meet a friend for coffee and end up ordering a frappuccino, then it’s basically like you went out for dessert. Let’s say you went out thrice this week to Starbucks (using them for illustrating the point since its nutrition information is easily available) and ordered the Coffee Frappuccino (294 Kcal). That’s an easy 882 Kcal in total for three of them, if you are unaware.
We often would also order a bakery treat with this, and let’s assume you went with the Triple Chocolate Cookie at 377 Kcal twice, taking it to a whopping 754 Kcal. Add it all in, and you’ve easily clocked in 1,636 Kcal. This will be pretty much the same scenario with most coffee shops. Everyone loves a good coffee, but if fat loss is a health goal and you aren’t seeing much progress, you may want to audit these drinks that are part of your weekly energy intake.
There is a common misconception that smoothies are inherently low-calorie and often marketed as a weight loss tool, thanks to them being heavily showcased by social media influencers, whose underlying message is ‘eat like me to look like me’ (#saynotodietculture). The truth is far from this. Some smoothies can easily pack over 1,000 Kcal depending on their size and ingredients.
Imagine a tall glass with a smoothie composed of avocado, dates, banana, peanut butter, milk, and honey – all ‘healthy’ ingredients that can easily take a person out of a calorie deficit if they are not fully aware of their nutrient profile. Smoothies are an excellent choice for those who are in a rush, but want to stay on top of the game when it comes to their nutrient intake. All you have to do is keep blender blunders at bay and not jeopardize the calorie-deficit principle, which is the most crucial for fat loss.
The usual blender blunders are adding in excess amounts of high-calorie ingredients like avocado, nuts, and seeds, as well as all types of sugar, honey, and maple syrup. When speaking about weight loss, it is important to remember that smoothies need not work to everyone’s benefit. Some folks see them as an easy way to monitor food portions and stay on top of their weight loss goals, while many don’t feel satisfied when they drink their calories rather than eat them. Smoothies are to be individualised for better outcomes.
Moving on to milkshakes – we are not talking about the Monster milkshakes or Freakshakes clocking in at 1,600 Kcal, which are a trend thanks to their Insta-worthy appearances. One glance, and you know they’re calorie bombs. From whipped cream, sprinkles, lollipops, doughnuts, and waffles to cookies, brownies, and chocolates, they feature a whole lot of sugary ingredients that are easy to stockpile.
In my opinion, it is the regular milkshakes that most of us tend to misjudge for their actual calorie content. These can provide the same energy as a meal if we aren’t mindful around them. For the purpose of illustrating this, let’s take the case of the peanut butter milkshake from Five Guys that clocks in at about 1,002 Kcal, the chocolate shake at 594 Kcal from Burger King, or the peanut butter banana protein smoothie from Jamba Juice with 650 Kcal… now who would’ve thought we’d talk about healthy outlets and fast food joints in the same sentence?
4. Sodas and Sugary Drinks
By now, everyone knows these provide empty calories, but most folks cannot fathom how quickly a few over a week can add up. People who drink these don’t feel as full as if they had eaten the same calories from solid food. Research indicates they also don’t compensate for the high caloric content of these beverages by eating less food. It’s a rare person who will remember a glass of soda or fruit-flavoured drink downed with a grilled chicken sandwich.
Unfortunately, sodas and sugary beverages are a regular drink of choice for millions around the world and a major contributor to the obesity epidemic. Adding to this is the rising portion sizes over the past 40 years – a standard soft drink bottle was about 200ml during the 1950s, and now it’s easy to get the same in 1-litre bottles.
5. Speciality Cocktails and Mocktails
These may sound fancy but can be heavy on calories, especially when you don’t make them yourself. The mixers like soda, juice, and pre-made blends are the ones that pile up the calories. Additionally, it’s not too difficult to down a couple of these when the food and company are good. When counting calories, many people will meticulously track their meals, but often forget to take drinks into account, which could wreak havoc on their healthy eating plans. Approach all of the above beverages with awareness to suit your health goals.
I’m not here to tell you that you should avoid these completely, but it’s important that you are aware that many of them have more calories than a meal and you will likely still be hungry after having liquid calories such as these beverages. Remember, they add up quickly and taking them seriously is hard, which is why they have stealthily contributed to the obesity epidemic. I hope this will help you make informed decisions when it comes to your choice of beverages.
Lovely Ranganath is a licensed clinical dietician. Visit @good.food.guru for more information.