10 of the Most Unhealthy Beverages You Can Drink

Most high schoolers can easily chow down an entire pizza for dinner and still be hungry for a snack by bedtime. Eventually, this sky-high metabolism starts to slow down. The same sort of carefree eating that used to be no big deal as a teenager now leads to major weight gain, so smarter choices are the clear answer. Unfortunately, even the most saintly diet won’t necessarily help you slim down. The culprit could be what’s in the glass next to your plate. A diet of nothing but lean protein and veggies won’t do you any good if you’re washing it down with tons of calorie-laden beverages.

While you might think you can adequately balance your drinks with the foods you eat, the science doesn’t support it. One 2011 review of multiple studies found that liquid calories don’t provide the same satiety as solid food, leading to an overall increase in caloric intake. While some drinks are perfectly healthy to sip often, the list of ones to watch out for is far longer. These beverages are among the worst offenders. Keep these drinks out of your fridge, and you’ll be on your way to a healthier tomorrow.

1. Juice and juice drinks

Juice has more sugar than necessary.

Juice can spoil your diet. | iStock.com

The juicing crowd likes the drinks for their great taste, but also for the health factor. There’s no denying fruit and vegetable juices offer plenty of nutrients, especially when freshly made. The problem comes with calories and portions. If you drink one cup of grape juice, you’ll get a whopping 120% of your daily vitamin C needs, but it’ll cost you 140 calories. Eating a cup of the whole fruits will give you only a fraction of the vitamin C, but you’ll also only consume 104 calories and end up with over a gram of fiber.

Even sneakier than regular juices are the drinks with additional sugar. Stay away from labels that say “juice drink” or “juice cocktail.” These terms are just a clever way for marketers to trick you into buying something with a lot of calories. Some contain nearly 30 grams of sugar in a single serving.

2. Sports drinks

If you're not an endurance athlete, you probably don't need this.

Most people don’t need sports drinks. | iStock.com

Head to any gym and you’re bound to see folks toting around bottles of neon beverages. The problem with this picture is that most of these people aren’t the types of athletes who sports drinks were designed for. Many are at least somewhat familiar with the story of Gatorade. It was invented in 1965 by the Florida Gators’ assistant coach to help replenish the electrolytes and carbohydrates players were losing from their hard efforts.

Hitting the treadmill for 30 minutes then lifting a few weights doesn’t require nearly the same number of calories or electrolytes. Furthermore, Livestrong.com points out many of us get plenty of these nutrients from the foods we normally eat. If you are an endurance athlete, it may be wise to go for sports drinks, as long as you do it right. The Washington Post recommends figuring out your hydration requirements by keeping track of how much you sweat. Just step on the scale before and after you exercise. Also, make sure you’re getting enough sodium.

3. Soda

Soda is basically just fizzy sugar water.

Soda is a definite no-no. | iStock.com

It can’t be any surprise that this fizzy beverage makes the list. Made from little more than artificial flavorings and sugar, soda isn’t doing your body any favors. Let’s actually take a look at the damage. If you were to down 20 ounces of cola, a pretty standard bottle size, you’d be consuming 260 calories, 60 milligrams of sodium, and 70 grams of sugar. No vitamins, no minerals, zip.

While it doesn’t have the same fizz, sweetened tea falls into this same category. STACK notes many packaged versions come with nutrition labels nearly identical to soda. Tea can absolutely be a healthy beverage, but make it yourself. If you must have a little sweetness, try adding a small drizzle of honey.

4. Zero-calorie beverages

Diet beverages are usually worse than the regular kind.

Stay away from diet beverages. | iStock.com

Diet soda is anything but diet-friendly. Many people look to fizzy drinks and other calorie-free beverages to satisfy a craving for sweets while avoiding the calories they’re hoping to cut. It’s not that simple, though. Research, including this study from 2008, indicates artificial sweeteners cause us to crave more food because we aren’t getting the calories we associate with the sweet taste. The study was performed with rats, but it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to think the results may be the same for humans.

The bad news doesn’t end there, either. One large study of more than 66,000 women found those who drank artificially sweetened beverages experienced a greater risk of developing diabetes than those who consumed beverages sweetened with sugar. The best zero-calorie beverage has always been, and always will be, water.

5. Energy drinks

This is not the kind of energy you're looking for.

Energy drinks are bad news. | iStock.com

Some people don’t care for the bitter taste of coffee, so they opt for an energy drink to get a caffeine boost. The similarities between a basic cup of joe and these fizzy drinks pretty much ends there. An 8-ounce portion of one of these high-octane beverages delivers 130 calories and 31 grams of sugar. The ingredient label is even more concerning. Barbara Lewin, R.D. and sports nutritionist, tells Outside Online that many energy drinks contain other stimulants that could be harmful. We can’t think of any situation where one of these beverages would be a good choice.

6. Purchased smoothies

Homemade smoothies are the way to go.

A store-bought smoothie is a no-go. | iStock.com

Making smoothies at home can be a healthy way to get in your recommended servings of fruits and vegetables. The ones you buy from juice shops and delis are a different story. Life by Daily Burn featured a list of some of the most shocking beverages out there, and Smoothie King’s The Hulk Strawberry took the top spot. This 40-ounce monster is almost enough sustenance for an entire day, with 1,928 calories, 64 grams of fat, and 250 grams of sugar. It also provides 50 grams of protein, but who cares. Even the slimmest option, a 20-ounce light version, is 864 calories.

These purchased beverages taste so good because many of them contain ice cream to get the dreamy texture most people achieve with a little yogurt or a frozen banana. Try blending your own using one of these simple recipes from Men’s Health. They’re just as tasty and a lot better for you.

7. Flavored coffee drinks

Fat doesn't belong in your coffee.

Flavored coffee drinks are packed with fat. | iStock.com

Most people wouldn’t dream of starting their day with anything other than coffee. The morning brew even boasts a number of health benefits. But adding a bunch of syrup, chocolate, and whipped cream to the drink pretty much undoes all of those advantages. A 20-ounce white chocolate mocha made with whole milk and topped with whipped cream comes in at 580 calories and 26 grams of fat.

Creamy, cold drinks are even worse. It’s enough to count as two breakfasts, but doesn’t offer any of the filling fiber or protein you need to power through your day. You can go for some of the lighter options, but your best bet is to order black and doctor it yourself. Whole milk is fine, just don’t go crazy. Same for the sugar. It’s a beverage, not a dessert.

8. Cocktails

Unhealthy drinks like cocktails should be kept off your personal menu.

Cocktails have a ton of calories. | iStock.com

A daily glass of wine has gotten the green light from plenty of health professionals. Even the occasional mixed drink isn’t a problem, unless you’re going for the wrong ones. Alcohol itself is pretty high in calories, with many varieties falling around 100 calories for 1½ ounces, so adding loads of sugar or high-fat ingredients can quickly turn your beverage into the caloric equivalent of a meal. Livestrong.com points out some of the worst offenders, including piña coladas and amaretto sours. Looking for some better options? Try these picks from San Diego Magazine.

9. Vitaminwater

Vitaminwater doesn't actually have as many vitamins as you think.

Vitaminwater isn’t the best choice if you’re trying to stay hydrated. | iStock.com/gpointstudio

Beware of sweet water infused with vitamins and “natural flavors.” Do you know what makes this water taste so delicious? Fructose. Research suggests diets high in fructose, a common ingredient in most types of Vitaminwater, can increase your risk for heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and metabolic problems. The reason people love Vitaminwater isn’t because of the added vitamins and minerals — it’s because of the added sweet taste.

You’re welcome to drink as much expensive, vitamin-rich flavored liquid as you want, but it will cost you 32 grams of sugar per 20 ounce bottle. If Vitaminwater is your go-to because of its health benefits, know a simple multivitamin is a far better choice. If you like it because of its taste, consider flavoring your own water instead.

10. Sweetened almond milk

Making your own almond milk is much healthier.

Sweetened milk isn’t much better than soda. | iStock.com/kiboka

Almond milk doesn’t come from cows, but it also tends to be less healthy than regular milk in a number of ways. Silk Vanilla Almondmilk, for example, contains 16 grams of sugar per cup, as well as 1 gram of each protein and fiber. Reduced fat milk has around 12 grams of sugar and 8 grams of protein, but no added sugars like the cane sugar found in almond milk.

Thankfully, it’s easy to make almond milk yourself. All you need are almonds, water, and a healthy sweetener like honey. Simply soak the almonds, toss them into a blender or food processor, strain, and refrigerate. Adding your own sweetness will give your homemade dairy-free milk the sweetness you’re looking for without the many consequences of added sugars or artificial sweeteners.

Additional reporting by Meg Dowell

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