How not to drink your kilojoules


In our fourth edition on good nutrition for women’s health, we explore the minefield of beverages that can potentially undo our good meal planning and dieting by unwittingly topping up with liquid kilojoules.

It's a fact that one of the best changes you can make for your overall health is to reduce your sugar intake. The World Health Organization (WHO), cautions that we should have no more than 12 teaspoons (50 grams) of added sugars a day, and that reducing our sugar intake even further and halving that would provide additional health benefits. However, South Africans consume up to twice this amount at 24 teaspoons of sugar per day, reports the 2017 Vitality ObeCity Index. Data from Vitality's HealthyFood Benefit further shows that beverages (particularly sugary drinks and 100% fruit juice) were among the top three food categories that contribute to total sugar purchases.

Drinks, particularly sugary soft drinks, can add a significant amount of sugar and empty kilojoules to your diet and cutting these out is a good place to start reducing your sugar intake. Here are some guidelines from Discovery Vitality dietitian Terry Harris on how to choose your drinks wisely.

Cool down on the cool drinks

Sugary drinks have received much attention lately with the recently implemented sugar-sweetened beverage tax. It's easy to see why sugary drinks are a problem – just having one regular 330 ml can of cool drink ups your sugar intake by almost 9 teaspoons of sugar – only 3 teaspoons away from the daily limit!

Sugary drinks are a highly-concentrated source of liquid energy without much else, so they don't fill you up. In other words, we don’t eat less to compensate for the many extra kilojoules we consume by drinking cooldrinks. This leads to an excessive energy intake and weight gain.

A number of studies also show that regularly drinking sugary drinks increases your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and tooth decay. It’s best to work towards cutting out sugary drinks altogether and instead drink plain water when thirsty.

If you find plain water to be too bland, try infusing still or sparkling water with various fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs for flavour.

Having it whole is better when it comes to fruit

Although many perceive fruit juice to be a healthy beverage, it can add significant amounts of sugar (and kilojoules) to your diet. A small glass (200 ml) of orange juice contains 6 teaspoons of sugar - that's a lot of additional kilojoules in a couple of gulps!

The problem with fruit juice is that it contains little fibre, so it doesn't fill you up the way eating a solid fruit would – making it easy to drink too much. Studies have found an association between drinking too much fruit juice and weight gain, as well as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

If you're used to drinking fruit juice, start gradually diluting it with more water until you’re comfortable with switching over to plain water. You can also replace fruit juice with a fruit smoothie by blending whole fruits, plain yoghurt and milk together, or simply enjoy your fruit whole as a snack.

Why you should reconsider that "healthy" sports drink

If you have a sports drink by your side every time you visit the gym, you may be undoing your hard work. Many energy and so-called health drinks are high in sugar and artificial flavouring - a standard 500 ml bottle of sports drink contains around 7 teaspoons of sugar!

Sports drinks have their place, but are only helpful if you’re exercising intensely for extended periods (longer than 90 minutes) - otherwise, you could well be gulping down all the kilojoules you've just worked off. Be aware of advertising tactics and learn to interpret nutrition labels so you can understand whether or not you're overconsuming. Water is the best option to keep you exercising at your peak, so fill your gym bottle with water instead of taking a sports drink with.

Keep those hot beverages wholesome

Don't underestimate the amount of sugar you can consume from tea and coffees alone, Harris says. "If you add just two teaspoons of sugar to each cup, it only takes six cups to reach your limit for the day - and that's not counting the sugar you're consuming from all your other food and drink sources."

Again, gradually reduce the amount of sugar that you add to your tea and coffee until you can have them without any added sugar at all. Stay away from commercial hot chocolates or other hot drinks that add to your sugar intake – rather make your own using unsweetened low-fat or non-dairy milk, cocoa powder, and a little vanilla extract and sugar if needed. You can also opt for herbal or homemade chai teas which can be enjoyed without adding sugar.

Alcohol – how much is too

Alcohol is often loaded with additional kilojoules and sugar. Alcohol alone provides 29 kJ per gram, which is almost twice what a gram of protein or carbohydrate provides (17 kJ). Sugar is then added to cocktails and many other alcoholic beverages – so it's easy to see why drinking too much alcohol can significantly up your energy intake.

In addition to leading to unwanted weight gain, drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk for developing high blood pressure, stroke and cancer later in life. "Lower the liquid kilojoules you consume from alcohol by having spritzers with soda water, opting for small glasses, and having water in-between drinks," suggests Harris.

"Better yet, stop at the recommended limit of one alcoholic drink a day for women to safeguard your health and prevent unwanted weight gain," concludes Harris. Examples of one drink include around 350 ml of beer, 150 ml of wine, or 45 ml of spirits such as gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey.

Read other articles in this Women’s Month series on good nutrition for women's health:
#1 Why opting for a healthy meal is easier when you're organised
#2 The 3 nutrients women most need for good health
#3 How to entertain and eat out the healthy way


  • 1 Schulze, M.B., Manson, J.E., Ludwig, D.S., Colditz, G.A., Stampfer, M.J., Willett, W.C. & Hu, F.B. 2004. Sugar-sweetened beverages, weight gain, and incidence of type 2 diabetes in young and middle-aged women. Journal of the American Medical Association, 292(8):927-934.


  • Bazzano, L.A., Li, T.Y., Joshipura, K.J. & Hu, F.B. 2008. Intake of fruit, vegetables, and fruit juices and risk of diabetes in women. Diabetes care, 31(7):1311-1317.


  • Odegaard, A.O., Koh, W.P., Arakawa, K., Mimi, C.Y. & Pereira, M.A. 2010. Soft drink and juice consumption and risk of physician-diagnosed incident type 2 diabetes: the Singapore Chinese Health Study. American journal of epidemiology, kwp452.


  • Muraki, I., Imamura, F., Manson, J.E., Hu, F.B., Willett, W.C., van Dam, R.M. & Sun, Q. 2013. Fruit consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from three prospective longitudinal cohort studies. BMJ, 347:f5001.


Feed your family good health with Vitality HealthyFood

Discovery Vitality's HealthyFood benefit, created by a team of nutrition and health experts, aims to promote good health and lower the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Vitality members can earn up to 25% cash back at Pick n Pay or Woolworths for their healthy food purchases.

Check the Pick n Pay and Woolworths HealthyFood catalogues to see which products qualify. Then SMS "Join" to 47751 to start getting rewarded for healthy choices with Vitality.

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