Americans have a tough time estimating just how harmful a beverage can be.
For some reason, we have a tough time believing what we sip can be just as innutritious as what we chew.
But as the beverages on this list prove, junk food can absolutely come in liquid form.
Many of these choices are stuffed with massive amounts of added sugar. Frequently choosing high-sugar beverages is a serious hazard to your health. Not only can it lead to poor body composition, but it significantly increases your risk of several unfavorable health outcomes.
Regular consumption of beverages high in added sugar has been associated with an increased risk of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The American Heart Association recommends a limit of 24 grams per day for women and 36 grams per day for men.
Saturated fat is also a major concern with some of these drinks. Eating too much saturated fat drastically increases your risk of high cholesterol, which in turn can have a negative impact on blood flow and oxygen transportation throughout the body.
The American Heart Association recommends that no more than 6% of your daily calories come from saturated fat. For a 2,000-calories-a-day diet, that translates to a limit of 13 grams of saturated fat each day.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the worst beverages out there and detail how they can sabotage an athlete’s body.
Unsweetened iced tea and many herbal, black and green teas have numerous health benefits (most are rich in antioxidants). Those are great.
But the canned or bottled versions and the sweetened teas you find at most restaurants are ones you have to watch out for.
McDonald’s offers a large Sweet Tea for a little over a dollar.
It contains 160 calories and 38 grams of sugar. Since unsweetened black tea contains no sugar, it’s safe to assume all 38 grams of sugar are of the “added” variety.
So a large McDonald’s Sweet Tea, alone, exceeds the AHA’s recommended limit of 36 grams of added sugar per day for men.
Drinking that much sugar so quickly wreaks havoc on your blood sugar, leading to crashes in the near term and increasing your risk of negative health consequences such as obesity and high blood pressure.
A small cup of coffee is low in calories and healthy. Add in a dash of cream and a spoonful of sugar and it’s still not nutritionally terrible. But some of those flavored coffee creations you find at coffee shop chains are downright dreadful.
Flavored lattes—especially the seasonal offerings—are some of the biggest offenders.
Starbucks’ ultra-popular Pumpkin Spice Latte is little more than junk food in a cup.
A 12-ounce Pumpkin Spice Latte packs in 300 calories, 11 grams of fat, 40 grams of carbohydrates and 39 grams of sugar.
That’s more calories than a six-piece Chicken McNuggets, more fat than five Rice Krispies Treats, and roughly the same amount of sugar you’d find in a can of soda.
Many frappuccinos and mochas are equally atrocious. A good rule: if the name sounds like something you’d eat for dessert (white chocolate, double chocolatey chip, salted caramel, cinnamon dolce, eggnog, etc.), you shouldn’t drink it.
If 100% fruit juice isn’t very healthy, than a concoction that packs even more sugar per ounce certainly isn’t, either.
That’s what AriZona Fruit Juice Cocktails are.
A 24-ounce can costs a meager 99 cents and packs an addictively-high amount of sugar.
The nutrition facts label camouflages how loaded with calories these beverages really are, as the serving size listed on them is just 8 ounces, meaning there are actually three servings in a single can.
Just about everyone drinks the entire can or bottle in one go, which equates to roughly 300 calories and 70 grams of sugar for popular varieties such as Watermelon and Grapeade.
Sodas, by and large, are sources of empty calories fueled by massive quantities of sugar.
The amount of added sugar they packed into a 12-ounce can is nothing short of stunning.
Mountain Dew is one of the worst offenders.
A 12-ounce serving contains a staggering 46 grams of sugar, while a 20-ounce bottle contains a monstrous 77 grams.
So a 20-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew contains more than twice the AHA recommended daily limit of added sugar for men.
The health effects of “Do’ing the Dew” on a regular basis can be disastrous.
I know what you’re thinking.
“Even diet soda is bad for me? How is that even possible!”
And I totally understand your disbelief. After all, a can of Diet Coke contains 0 calories, 0 grams of sugar, 0 grams of fat and a mere 40mg of sodium.
How can a beverage with nutrition facts akin to water be bad for you?
“Diet soda can have no calories, carbs or sugar because it replaces sugar with artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are much sweeter than sugar. So it’s possible to use a very small amount for the sweet taste and have a very low level of calories,” says Ryan Andrews, nutrition coach at Precision Nutrition.
Indeed, some artificial sweeteners are actually 600 times as sweet as sugar.
When your body thinks it’s getting sugar, it expects to receive calories. When it doesn’t actually get those calories, your body gets confused.
Over time, this behavior could wreak havoc on how your body releases insulin, the hormone that helps turn sugar into energy. If your body has adapted to artificial sweetener consumption, it might not release the proper levels of insulin when you consume actual sugar. This can lead to sugar remaining in the blood stream, which can cause things like diabetes and hyperglycemia.
Furthermore, by tricking your body into thinking it’s going to get calories, artificial sweeteners leave you susceptible to subsequent overeating. “Since the body and brain aren’t actually getting calories or carbs, we might get signals for strong rebound cravings after consuming artificial sweeteners,” Andrews says.
A recent study found diet soda drinkers consume a comparable amount of total calories per day as regular soda drinkers. That means they’re eating more calories from solid food than regular soda drinkers, filling in any caloric deficit they might be creating from their zero-calorie soda consumption.
So while diet soda might look like a sterling option when you glance at the nutrition facts, its real effect on your body is much more complex.
Click here for more info on how zero-calorie diet sodas can still be bad for you.
Now’s a good time to remind you that water is absolutely essential to good health and high performance.
The human body is roughly 60 percent water, and water plays a crucial role in almost every important bodily process. Water transports nutrients and oxygen, supports proper muscle contraction, improves joint function and fights fatigue.
Being even slightly dehydrated can cause decreases in reaction time, mood and focus.
The negative effects of not drinking enough water are almost too many to count. And many people feel the effects each and every day.
A recent study found that more than 50% of American teens and children don’t drink enough water, and 25% of them don’t drink any water on a daily basis. Adults aren’t faring much better. Forty-three percent of them drink fewer than four cups a day.
While vitaminwater might have the word “water” in its name, it’s pretty much at the exact opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to healthiness.
That’s because the second ingredient in the drink is “crystalline fructose,” which is really just a fancy way of saying sugar.
Most varieties pack 32 grams of sugar per 20-ounce serving, which is a dreadfully high amount for a product that advertises itself as a healthy everyday option.
Tonic water sounds like a magical beverage.
Water is essential to life, and a “tonic” is defined as a “medicinal substance taken to give a feeling of vigor or well-being.”
Tonic water does in fact have origins as a medicinal beverage, as it originally consisted of just carbonated water and quinine.
The later is a medication that’s long been used as a treatment/preventative measure for malaria.
But over the years, tonic water has essentially become a soft drink.
The second ingredient in Schweppes Tonic Water is sugar, and a 250ml serving (equal to about 8.5 fluid ounces) packs 22 grams of sugar.
Tonic water has long been considered an effective home remedy for muscle cramps, but the Harvard Women’s Health Watch warns there’s no evidence behind this idea and that modern tonic waters likely contain too little quinine to stifle cramps.
The health effects of this beverage are compounded when mixed with gin to create the popular gin and tonic, which leads us to our next beverage…
Simply Orange Juice
We previously stated that juice isn’t as healthy as most people think.
Yes, that includes orange juice.
While Simply Orange is made from 100% orange juice, that doesn’t mean it’s nutritious.
The biggest issue is the 22 grams of sugar per 8-ounce serving.
Sugar found in whole fruit is drastically better for you than added sugar due to the amount of naturally-occurring fiber that comes along for the ride.
While the sugar in orange juice (and fruit juice in general) does come from fruit, it’s missing that naturally occurring fiber. Almost all of the natural fiber in whole fruit is removed or destroyed during the juice production process.
Even the Simply Orange varieties that do contain pulp don’t contain any fiber.
So an 8-ounce serving of Simply Orange packs about as much sugar as you’d find in two oranges, but those two whole oranges would also combine for nearly a quarter of your recommended daily amount of fiber.
While orange juice does pack high amounts of vitamin C, most people get enough from other dietary sources.
For orange juice varieties that are not 100% orange juice, the nutrition is often more grim.
A glass of OJ every now and then won’t kill you, but downing a hefty cup every morning can quickly lead to a chronic overconsumption of sugar.
Most Commercial Smoothies
When done right, smoothies can be a convenient way to down a few servings of fruits and vegetables.
Some whole fruit, some ice, maybe a tablespoon of nut butter—that’s a solid fueling option. However, most smoothies you’ll find at national chains are far less healthy.
A small Aloha Pineapple Smoothie from Jamba Juice, for example, contains 310 calories and 67 grams of sugar.
While the company touts that it contains real bananas and strawberries, their overall presence is fairly minimal.
This is evidenced by the fact the drink contains just 2 grams of dietary fiber, while a medium-sized banana contains 3.1 grams.
The flavor comes from pineapple juice (the number one ingredient) and pineapple sherbet (the number three ingredient), both of which are loaded with sugar.
Most commercial acai bowls aren’t much better.
Long story short—if you truly want a healthy smoothie, your best route is buying a blender and making them at home.
Energy drinks can shock your system with a colossal amount of caffeine and sugar to wake you up or keep you alert, but you’ll likely end up crashing hard and find yourself feeling worse than you did before.
Most energy drinks are nutritionally equivalent to soda—with more caffeine.
A 12-ounce serving of one popular energy drink contains 160 calories, 42 grams of carbohydrates and 41 grams of sugar.
Another has 210 calories, 46 grams of carbohydrates and 46 grams of sugar.
That’s more sugar than five Fruit by the Foot rolls.
While coffee has loads of beneficial antioxidants that come along with its caffeine kick, the same simply cannot be said for most energy drinks.
While one once in a blue moon won’t hurt, if you’re constantly relying on energy drinks to make it through your day, you’re simply perpetuating a cycle that’ll often lead to you feeling like junk.
Alcohol is bad news for athletes.
It’s hard to overstate just how poisonous booze is for athletic performance.
This article goes into greater detail, but just know that excessive alcohol consumption often leads to gains in body fat, poor protein synthesis, impaired muscle building, dehydration and reductions in testosterone.
It also reduces reaction time and seriously jacks up your sleep.
Eleven hours of sleep after a night of binge drinking isn’t nearly as restful as six hours without alcohol, in most cases.
The consequences extend beyond health for underage teens and young adults, as many talented student-athletes have squandered opportunities due to unlawful drinking.
Long story short—alcohol interferes with many of the key bodily functions we rely upon for athletic performance.
A glass of red wine for those who are of age may have some nice health benefits, but beyond that, it’s a slippery slope.
Flavored Almond Milk
Nut milks are all the rage right now.
Over the past five years, non-dairy milk sales have increased by 61% in America.
Almond milk might be the single most popular alternative.
While unsweetened almond milks are a pretty solid choice if you’re looking to cut down on calories and avoid dairy (and aren’t too worried about protein), many of the flavored varieties aren’t nearly as nutritious.
If you’re looking for the absolute healthiest form of almond milk, you’d be wised to go for an unsweetened, unflavored variety.
Unsweetened almond milk contains zero grams of sugar. Therefore, we can conclude that the sugar content in sweetened almond milk is of the “added” variety.
Sweetened, unflavored almond milks usually contain about 7 grams of added sugar per serving. Not terrible, but not ideal.
But flavored varieties (such as vanilla or chocolate) of almond milk often contain 16-22 grams of added sugar per serving—a downright dreadful amount.
Read more about how non-dairy milk alternatives stack up here.