Depending on the type of beverage you choose, you may be consuming as many calories as you eat in a hamburger -- or even a meal. Oftentimes, restaurant fountain drinks are saturated with high levels of sugar with minimal nutrition. High-calorie beverage consumption can lead to weight gain, so choosing the right beverage at restaurants can make the overall meal healthier.
The calories in restaurant fountain drinks depend on the beverage and whether or not it is diet. A large, regular cola of approximately 32 ounces may contain 310 calories, which is almost as much as a double-patty hamburger. By contrast, diet sodas generally contain no calories. A small, 16-ounce fountain sweet tea may contain approximately 185 calories, whereas an unsweetened tea will contain none. Lemonade, another popular fountain beverage, has around 200 calories for 16 ounces, unless it is diet or sugar-free, which usually has less than 5 calories. Water, club soda and seltzer water are all calorie-free fountain options.
Beyond calories, sodium is the most abundant nutrient found in many restaurant fountain drinks. Most sodas -- both regular and diet -- contain about 20 milligrams of sodium in a medium-sized cup. For the same size, iced tea contains only around 10 milligrams. Lemonade provides about 20 milligrams of sodium in 16 ounces and sometimes more if it is made from a powdered mix. While plain water has no sodium, club soda or seltzer water may have up to 100 milligrams of sodium in 16 ounces.
Vitamins and Minerals
While most fountain drinks are devoid of beneficial nutrients, some contain small amounts of vitamins, particularly vitamin C. A large lemonade may have around 30 milligrams of vitamin C, and some orange drinks can contain up to 300 milligrams in a large serving. Iced tea -- sweetened and unsweetened -- has approximately 600 milligrams of potassium in a 16-ounce serving. Dark colas have approximately 50 milligrams of phosphorus in a medium-sized cup.
Healthy Drink Options
If you prefer to eat your calories instead of drinking them, look for calorie-free options in drinks. Artificial sweeteners are usually found only in diet beverages, which usually contain 5 calories or less. For diet sodas, aspartame is the sweetener commonly used. Some lemonades, diet iced teas and fruity drinks may also use sucralose as a source of artificial sweetener. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of artificial sweeteners and considers them safe for consumption. Fruit juice is another healthy option that will provide you with a serving of fruit and assorted vitamins, especially if it is made from 100 percent fruit juice, but be aware that some fruit juices contain many calories from natural sugars. Your best bet for a beverage at a restaurant is water -- you can even jazz it up with a squeeze of lemon or lime. Save the calories for your meal.
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