MealEnders Blog

Tami’s Tips: 6 Myths about Summer Drinks

and How to Avoid Sugary Drinks

By Tami Lyon, MPH, RD
June 05, 2018

Sugary Drinks

Keeping our bodies hydrated is critical for our health. About 60% of the human body is made up of water. Water is important for temperature regulation, joint lubrication, nutrient delivery, toxin and bacteria elimination and constipation prevention. As the weather heats up, our bodies produce more sweat in an effort to cool down. The more we sweat, the more water we lose, and the more important it is that we replace it by drinking fluids. And, as we all know, nothing quite compares to an ice-cold drink on a hot summer day.

Staying hydrated is important, but what we drink to get the job done matters too! Many popular summer drinks, even the healthy-sounding ones, contain tons of sugar and/or artificial additives. Beverages that are high in sugar cause you to consume empty calories, leading to excess intake. Check out the myths about your favorite summer beverages below and see what healthy substitutions you can make this season to avoid sugary drinks.

Myth #1: Soda is ok to drink as long as it’s diet.

Diet soda may contain 0 calories and 0 grams of sugar, but to obtain the proper taste, it also contains chemicals and artificial additives that are harmful to our health.

The American Cancer Society has reported that the consumption of aspartame, the most common chemical used as a sugar substitute and found in diet sodas, is linked to a higher risk of cancer development. Studies have shown associations between aspartame and a wide range of side effects, from mild symptoms, like headaches, dizziness, digestive system dysregulation, and changes in mood, to more serious health complications, such as Alzheimer’s disease, birth defects, diabetes, and attention deficit disorders. More research must be done to confirm these as cause and effect relationships. Yet, there’s still enough research out there to suggest that it’s best to reduce intake of aspartame as much as possible to avoid any possible health complications.  

In addition, diet sodas contain phosphoric acid, benzene, artificial food coloring and sodium benzene, which are all associated with health complications of their own. Phosphoric acid can interfere with the body’s ability to utilize calcium. High levels of phosphoric acid intake can increase your risk of osteoporosis and tooth decay. Benzene and artificial food colorings, including the caramel coloring found in diet sodas, are known cancer-causing carcinogens when ingested. Studies show that sodium benzoate, a preservative found in diet sodas and other processed foods, may cause DNA damage, increasing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, cancer and metabolic conditions.

Be careful about consuming healthier-sounding flavored seltzers too. Some of these beverages like Sparkling Ice, are also sweetened artificially, with sucralose, and contain artificial coloring, fruit juice concentrate and preservatives.  Other healthier flavored seltzers (i.e. La Croix and Canada Dry Sparkling Water) contain “natural flavors.” “Natural flavors” are defined by the FDA as the natural essence or oils from a variety of spices, fruits, vegetables and other plants and foods, meaning the term covers a broad spectrum of ingredients. When consuming “natural flavors,” you’ll never know exactly what you’re getting. This can be a particular issue in individuals with food allergies. A compound included in the “natural flavors” category may trigger an allergy, causing an unwanted reaction.   

Instead of purchasing sugary drinks like diet soda or bottled flavored seltzer, buy plain sparkling water (or make your own with a soda maker) and add a squeeze of citrus, a splash of juice, or, better yet, infuse the water with some fresh fruit.

Myth #2: Fresh lemonade and iced-tea are the same as the bottled stuff.

An ice-cold glass of lemonade or iced-tea hits the spot on a hot summer day. However, these bottled beverages are high calorie drinks, loaded with sugar and little nutrients or real fruit juice.

One glass of Simply Lemonade contains 120 calories and 28g of sugar, that’s more sugar than a glass of Sprite! In comparison, a glass of homemade lemonade (made by squeezing fresh lemon juice into ice-water and adding 1 tablespoon of coconut sugar) has less than half the amount of sugar (12g) and calories (only 50 or so). Coconut sugar contains many benefits over refined sugar, as it contains trace elements of nutrients, such as iron, zinc and potassium, and may help control blood sugars (thanks to a fiber called inulin that may help slow glucose absorption). Fresh lemon juice is very low calorie, with only 12 calories for the juice of one lemon. Lemon juice also is rich in vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C and folate, and contains other phytonutrients and antioxidants.

Bottled iced-tea drinks are just as bad. A cup of Arizona Lemon Iced Tea contains 90 calories and 24g of sugar, while a cup of brewed lemon tea over ice sweetened with 1 teaspoon of sugar contains 16 calories and 4g of sugar (you can use coconut sugar here too for an added benefit). Plus, making your own iced tea lets you choose your favorite flavor and brand of tea bag. Get creative and steep a vanilla and cinnamon black tea or a ginger turmeric herbal tea.

Many think that diet lemonade and iced tea are better for you. Although they do contain fewer calories and less sugar than the non-diet bottled drinks, their recipes include artificial sweeteners, which, as mentioned before, carry their own health risks. Stick to simple homemade kinds to quench your thirst instead.  

If the idea of starting from scratch every time you want a glass of lemonade turns you off, you can juice a bunch of lemons at once and freeze their juice in an ice cube tray. When you need some refreshment, simply drop a cube or two into a glass of water, add a bit of sugar and drink away. If you absolutely need the convenience of a grab-and-go beverage, stick with options that contain less than 12g of sugar per 8oz, like Nestea’s Slightly Sweet Black and Green Tea drinks, Tazo’s Organic Iced Black Tea and Trader Joe’s Low Calorie Lemonade. Purchasing the unsweetened iced tea drinks will also help cut down on your sugar consumption.

Myth #3: Drinking fruit juice is good for you, as it’s the same as eating a piece of fruit.

Fruit is the perfect summer mid-day treat or dessert. Replacing the real thing with a glass of juice may seem harmless, but fruit juice is much more concentrated than the whole fruit and contains far more sugar and calories ounce-for-ounce than the fruit itself. Many juices also contain added sugar, increasing the calorie count. For example a glass of Simply Mixed Berry Juice Drink contains 100 calories and 25g of sugar, 23 of which are added sugar. In comparison, a cup of mixed blueberries and raspberries contains 73 calories and 13g of sugar. In addition, the cup of berries contains 10g of fiber, whereas a cup of the juice contains none (juicing any fruit of vegetable breaks down the fiber). Because the fresh berries contain fiber, they will keep us full and satiated, while the juice acts as empty calories and sugar. The juice may cause a sugar high. but will leave you hungry and tired soon after consuming. Plus, berries are in season during the summer, meaning they will be less expensive and taste their best. Berries are about 86% water. No need to drink the bottled stuff when you can stay hydrated with the real thing and have it taste even better! (you can even freeze them and enjoy them as a frozen treat to cool off!)  Feeling a bit more thirsty? Strawberries and watermelon contain 92% water, with similar benefits! Eat these to stay hydrated too.

Bottled smoothie drinks also contain more sugar and calories and less fiber than the whole fruits. A glass of Berry Veggie Naked Juice Smoothie contains 130 calories, 18g of sugar and 2.5g of fiber (250 calories, 34g of sugar, 5g fiber per bottle). A homemade smoothie drink is a good substitute. Just remember that even homemade smoothies are high calorie drinks that also contain more fat and protein than water and water-based beverages, and should be consumed as a snack or part of a meal. Drinking a lot of smoothies, without keeping this in mind, can lead to excess calorie and macronutrient intake, leading to weight gain. Another good option is to ditch the smoothie all together and top a low- or non-fat yogurt with some fresh fruit. The protein in the yogurt and fiber in the fruit will keep you full. Have a glass of water or seltzer on the side to stay hydrated too!

Myth #4: All coffee drinks are created equal.

Iced-coffee drinks scream summer. Coffee can be beneficial to our diets, as it contains antioxidants, is low-calorie and has been linked to chronic disease prevention. However, it’s best to avoid frappes and other sugary drink concoctions made with coffee. They contain so much sugar and fat. that they work against coffee’s other benefits. Some Starbucks Frappuccinos don’t even contain coffee at all, making them fancy milkshakes. A grande Starbucks Vanilla Bean Creme Frappe is made from milk, vanilla bean, whipped cream and ice and contains 400 calories and 59g of sugar. The Mocha Frappuccino does contain coffee, but is also mixed with chocolate sauce, milk and ice, bringing the calorie count up to 410 and the sugar to 61g (for a grande size). In comparison, a grande unsweetened iced-coffee contains 5 calories and 0g of sugar. Even adding one sugar packet (1 teaspoon) only brings the calorie count up to 21, with 4g of sugar (1 teaspoon of sugar contains 16 calories and 4g of sugar).

The bottled stuff is better than the cafe drinks, but still fares worse compared to regular iced coffee, even with added sugar. A bottle of Starbucks Vanilla Frappuccino contains 200 calories and 20g of sugar, while a cup of Grady’s cold brew offers the same convenience with only 10 calories and zero grams of sugar. Adding 1 teaspoon (or one packet) of sugar to a cup of Grady’s brings the calorie count to 26 and amount of sugar to 4g.

Challenging another coffee myth, research shows that a cup of joe will not cause dehydration (as long as it’s consumed in moderation). In fact, one study shows that coffee can be as hydrating as water. While caffeine is dehydrating, the amount of water used to produce coffee compensates for this effect, leaving you more hydrated than you were prior to consumption. Consuming more than 500mg of caffeine a day (about 5 cups) is where you can get in trouble. Make sure to drink a lot of water if you do consume a lot and work on cutting down on your intake.

Myth #5: Sports drinks are necessary to keep me hydrated when I sweat.

Sports drinks, like Gatorade and Powerade, are marketed to make us believe that every time we sweat, our bodies need electrolytes and sugar to stay hydrated. However, most of us just need plain water, even during moderate intensity exercise. We do lose electrolytes when we sweat, but these drinks provide way more than we need to replete our stores. Consuming these high calorie drinks regularly can lead to excess calorie, sodium, and sugar intake and work against your exercise efforts. 1 bottle of Lemon-Lime flavored Gatorade provides 140 calories, 270mg of sodium, and 34g of sugar. The average person burns about 300 calories during half an hour of jogging. Consuming this sports drink takes away almost half of your effort! The Gatorade ingredients list also includes added (unhealthy and unnatural) preservatives, like sodium citrate and monopotassium phosphate. Sub out the drink for a large bottle of water (use a refillable bottle as a plus, which is better for the environment and your wallet). If you will be doing long-term exercise, or exercising in very hot conditions, try purchasing an electrolyte-enhanced water, SmartWater for example, or using an electrolyte tablet, to stay hydrated without the extra calories and sugar.

Myth #6: Wine coolers are better than beer.

An alcoholic drink on the beach with friends may feel like the perfect way for you to relax and hang out during the summer. Beer’s bad reputation makes many of us think of it as a cause of bloating and weight gain due to its higher calorie content. This reputation may cause us to choose a wine cooler or spritzer drink instead. However, some wine coolers can contain more calories and sugar than light beers. A can of Barefoot’s Summer Red Spritzer provides 170 calories and 16g of sugar. In comparison, the same amount of Michelob Light Beer contains only 86 calories (half the amount) and 0g of sugar (123 calories in a 12oz bottle). In addition, wine coolers may contain undesirable artificial coloring and sweeteners that beer does not.

A note about alcohol intake and hydration. Alcohol actually is dehydrating (this one is not a myth). Drinking an alcoholic beverage may quench your thirst, but causes your body to actually need more water than it would have previously. If you’re going to indulge, plan to drink even more water than you would have. Alternating sips between alcohol and water can help. The less alcohol content in your drink, the better in regards to staying hydrated. And moderation with alcohol is essential too, for both hydration and our health.  

Hot summer days call for delicious cold drinks. But avoid sugary drinks that can hinder your weight loss and lifestyle goals. Using these tips and remembering these myths will help you to make better choices this season, while still enjoying your all your favorite drinks.




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