When we think about how many calories we consume on a typical day, we tend to think of the foods and snacks we eat. But this mindset leaves us overlooking a significant source of our consumption of added sugars: what we drink

According to the most recent edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, for 2015-2020, we consume nearly 20 percent of our daily calories, on average, from beverages, 35 percent of which come from sweetened drinks, like sodas, juices, sweetened teas and coffees, and sports drinks. What’s more, these liquid calories make up an astonishing 47 percent of our overall added sugar consumption.

What about your daily Diet Coke, you ask? Well, it’s worth noting that going “diet” doesn’t necessarily help here. While artificial sweeteners may help satisfy your sweet tooth without the added calories in the short term, it’s not clear from the research whether this is helpful or harmful for your metabolic health in the long run. 

If this sounds daunting, there’s hope: These guidelines emphasize not wholesale diet changes, but simple shifts to what you’re already drinking. And given that the vast amount of the added sugars we consume come from sugary drinks, this is one area where we can make a lasting impact on our health through one small, focused Microstep

To get started on your own healthy shift, start with one swap a day: Replace one sugary drink or diet drink with water. Next time you see a colorful array of tropical juices and electric-hued energy drinks at your go-to lunch spot, reach instead for an unsweetened tea or seltzer. Or instead of your 3 p.m. diet soda pick-me-up, squeeze a slice of fresh lemon, orange, or lime into a glass of water. A 2019 study from Stanford University’s Mind and Body Lab supports that enhancing the “experiential” elements of what you’re consuming in these small, calorie-free ways makes it more likely that you’ll get in the habit of reaching for the healthier option — and kick your sugar cravings to the curb.

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  • Mallory Stratton

    Director of Content Operations at Thrive

    Mallory is Director of Content Operations at Thrive. Prior to Thrive, she was Associate Editor on “It’s All In Your Head” by Keith Blanchard (Wicked Cow Studios, 2017), an illustrated brain science book, and worked closely on its accompanying cross-platform partnerships with Time Inc. and WebMD. She spends her off-hours curating playlists, practicing restorative yoga, and steeping new teas.