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Decode Your Drinks

Decode Your Drinks

Have you ever read the label on your favorite soda, bottled tea, or energy drink?

If so, maybe you found yourself thinking about what all those long words could mean. Check out the table below to learn what’s in your favorite drinks, and which drinks are healthy choices for you and your family.

Drink What's in the drink***

Calories per
12 ounces*

Coffee, Tea, and Cocoa These beverages all contain caffeine; however, brewed coffee has much more than tea, and cocoa has even less. Caffeine is a drug that can make kids feel jittery and irritable, or have trouble concentrating. It can cause a headache, upset stomach, or racing heartbeat, and can make it hard for kids to fall asleep.  Watch out for bottled coffees and teas. These drinks, as with some hot coffees and hot cocoa, are often full of caffeine and sugar.  Also full of sugar are coffees that have added sugars in such ingredients as higher fat milk, whipped cream, and sugar syrups.  Choose to add low-fat and fat-free milk to your coffee and teas to boost your calcium.

2 in plain, nothing added, hot or cold coffee and tea

80 in 1 packet regular hot cocoa mix with water



Energy Drinks Although these drinks are popular with older kids and teens, they can pack from three to ten times the caffeine in soft drinks. Sleep loss, behavior problems, an increased heart rate, and even seizures have been reported among kids who drink them. They’re also high in sugar and calories. 99 in regular (non sugar free)
Juices and Juice Drinks Not all juices are created equal! For example, you might think of cranberry juice cocktail as a healthy drink, but did you know that one cup contains more than 7 teaspoons of sugar, with over 100 calories? Look for juice boxes, bottles and cans that say “100% juice” on the label. They still contain sugar, but it’s only the sugar that is present naturally in the fruit. And don’t forget vegetable juices. Brands low in sodium are a healthy way to add a portion of vegetables to your diet. Dilute 100% juice with water to limit your kids’ sugar intake and stretch your food budget  The American Academy of Pediatrics provides these recommendations:**

  • Birth to 6 months: No fruit juice, unless it's used to relieve constipation,
  • 6 months to 6 years: no more than 4 to 6 ounces a day of fruit juice.
  • 7 years and older: no more than 8 to 12 ounces a day of fruit juice.
  • Avoid serving juice to older infants and toddlers in bottles or cups that allow them to consume juice easily throughout the day.
  • Avoid giving fruit juice at bedtime.


168 in 100% orange juice or lemonade

192 in fruit punch or 100% apple juice







Milk Milk provides protein, calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients that you and your kids need to keep your body—especially your bones—strong.  Plus unflavored low-fat and fat-free milk is low in calories.  For more on milk, check out the Food Hero tip Milk: Mealtimes and More.

135 in fat-free (unflavored)

158/237 in low-fat 1% (unflavored/chocolate)

180/285 in reduced fat 2% (unflavored/chocolate)

225/312 in whole (unflavored/chocolate)

Milk Alternatives Calcium-fortified soy milk is a popular alternative to cow’s milk that provides protein, calcium, and usually vitamin D as well as many other nutrients. Calcium-fortified rice milk and almond milk are other milk alternatives; however, they are very low in protein compared to cow’s milk and soy milk, and many brands are high in sugar. Some 100% fruit juices are also fortified with calcium.

158 soymilk original and vanilla, light

158 soymilk original and vanilla

231 soymilk chocolate

Soft Drinks

Unless they’re labeled sugar-free, most soft drinks are loaded with sugar. A 12-ounce can of one popular soda contains 10 teaspoons of sugar! All that sugar adds 160 calories to your diet—calories you might not even realize you’re drinking! So how can you spot sugar on the label? Most soft drinks are made with high fructose corn syrup, a sugar manufactured from corn. Others are made with “pure cane sugar,” honey, or other sweeteners. But no matter what form it takes, it’s still sugar, and loaded with empty calories.

Another ingredient in many soft drinks is caffeine. Yet did you know that many soft drinks contain as much caffeine as coffee? Caffeine is a drug that can make kids feel jittery and irritable, or have trouble concentrating. It can cause a headache, upset stomach, or racing heartbeat, and can make it hard for kids to fall asleep. Most colas contain caffeine as well as many other types of sodas.

0 in
diet soda (with aspartame)

124 in regular ginger ale

136 in regular cola

148 in regular lemon/lime

Sports Drinks Sports drinks can help athletes replace the fluid, minerals and other nutrients they lose during intensive workouts. But unless you or your kids exercise vigorously for longer than 60 minutes at a time, you should avoid them. A 12-ounce serving has about 100 calories. 40 in regular (non sugar free)
Water If there were a competition for the best beverage, water would be the winner. It’s calorie-free, cost-free, and provides the fluid your body needs.  For more information, check out Water: At Home or On the Go 0 in water or carbonated water


*USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference

**The Use and Misuse of Fruit Juice in Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition. Pediatrics, 2001;107:1210-1213.

***Sweeteners added to your drinks go by different names.  If you find any of these common sweetener names on the ingredient list of your drink you are drinking a sugar-sweetened beverage which will boost the calories: corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, sucrose, sugar, and syrup.

Last updated: 10/03/17