Kilojoule bomb in your beverages

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Alcoholic drinks from Shutterstock
Alcoholic drinks from Shutterstock

You watch your weight, you eat sensibly and then you down the equivalent of 13 slices of white bread without thinking twice. It sounds almost impossible, but so many people never really think about the kilojoule content of their drinks. Maybe it's time to do so.

If you can't think of any other obvious reasons such as a lack of exercise, your daily fluid intake may be the reason you're gaining weight. The drinks we've totted up below add up to around 3 000kJ – that's almost a third of the recommended daily energy intake for an average, moderately active woman.

So it's time to face the fact that, thanks to their sugar content, various beverages – from soft drinks to hard tipple – are actually crammed with kilojoules.

If you compare drinks and bread on kilojoule content, you'll find that a can of cider, for example, can provide about 843kJ – that's almost as many kilojoules as four slices of bread (based on one slice of Blue Ribbon white bread = 221kJ). A large glass of wine or a can of milk stout isn't far behind and neither is a Coke or Fanta. Take a look at the table below, and you'll see what we mean:

Volume (ml)BeverageEnergy value (kJ)
340Castle Milk Stout758
340Castle Lager570
340Caste Light438
340Low alcohol beer (Woolworths)391
340Redd's Cider843
120*Dry white or red wine353-504
120*Semi-sweet white wine781
120*Semi-sweet rosé781
100Sparkling wine311
25Whisky, brandy, gin, vodka250
25Van der Hum (Bols)338
340Tonic, Dry Lemon470
340Coca-cola, lemonade585
340Soda water0
340"Lite" cool drinks55-60
340Fanta Orange714
340Apple juice478
340Coffee/tea with 2 tsp of sugar and low fat milk174

Over the past few decades we seem to have forgotten that beverages were never meant to be kilojoule bombs – except perhaps for bone-boosting whole milk, sports drinks and special formulations for the clinically malnourished. Beverages were meant to be, well, beverages. Their sole purpose: to quench thirst.

What's the ideal drink?

Don't hold out hope for a glamorous beverage that's a taste sensation and low in kilojoules. Plain water is still the best way to fulfil your daily fluid needs, says the Nutrition Information Centre of the University of Stellenbosch (Nicus). When a US beverage panel recently weighed up the benefits and drawbacks of daily drinks, water came out tops.

According to Nicus, water is highly recommended for daily fluid intake. It provides no additional energy, making it ideal for overweight or inactive adults. It also provides variable amounts of minerals such as calcium, magnesium and fluoride, depending on its source.

Water is followed in favour by tea, coffee, low-fat and fat-free milk and drinking yoghurts, diet or artificially sweetened cooldrinks, drinks with some nutritional benefits (such as fruit or vegetable juices, full-cream milk, alcoholic beverages and sports drinks) and sweetened drinks (all in this order).

The panel came to the somewhat surprising conclusion that it's better to drink a cup of coffee (without the sugar and full-cream milk, of course) than it is to drink a glass of orange juice. The key seems to be energy value: on its own, coffee has no kilojoules and is packed with antioxidants. While juice is a good source of vitamins, you should limit the quantity you drink.

The general rule of thumb is the sweeter the drink, the more kilojoules it contains.

Easy on the alcohol

Alcohol also ups the kilojoule load. "On its own, alcohol provides about 29kJ per gram. So the stronger the drink, the higher the kilojoule count," says Irene Labuschagne, a registered dietician at Nicus.

Remember, it's not just the alcohol that contains kilojoules, the mixer is as big a culprit. A neat brandy contains only 250kJ, but mixed with half a can of Coca-Cola, the kilojoule content shoots up to almost 550kJ. Rather stick to 'lite' mixers.

To keep the weight off, go for drinks that are low in alcohol and sugar. Have a dry white wine spritzer (250kJ), a glass of bubbly (311kJ), a vodka and diet cranberry juice (280kJ) or a can of light beer (438 kJ).

More water, less sugar, less alcohol

In general, selecting the right drink is quite a simple calculation. If you stick to plain, unsweetened water and other low-kilojoule drinks, you can indulge in the odd helping of chocolate. Reach for drinks that contain more water, less sugar and less alcohol, and both your weight and health will benefit.

If you limit the kilojoules you get from your daily beverage intake to 1 000kJ, you can lose between 0,5 and 1kg a week. Now there's something to drink to!

* Note that restaurants often serve double this amount: approximately 250ml wine per glass.

The New Complete Kilojoule, Carbohydrate & Fat Counter: South African Edition. Published by STRUIK (2006).

Read more:
How much should we drink?
Factors that influence water needs

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