How Many Calories Are in That Smoothie?

The humidity is oppressive. The sun's rays are beginning to feel obnoxious rather than pleasant. As you leave the friendly confines of any air-conditioned space, you know there is only one thing that can make the sweltering summer day enjoyable: a chilly, sippable summer concoction.

Maybe it's coffee, maybe it's a fruit drink, it is probably blended, and definitely refreshing.

But summer-drinker beware! Many of these drinks, and not just the ones with ice cream, pack a punch not only to the wallet, but also to the waistline.

The range in calorie content amongst summer drinks is as large as the variety available, and the differences among the options are not always straightforward. What is often touted as "healthy" may not actually be any better for your waistline than a milkshake.

According to the U.S. Department of Health, a person needs to "eat a variety of fruits – whether fresh, frozen, canned, or dried – rather than fruit juice." Based on a 2,000-calorie diet, "You will need 2 cups of fruit each day". It may seem tempting to get those two cups by indulging in fruit smoothies, but the smoothies bought at many popular retail chains may not be as healthy as the name suggests.

Fruit Drinks

Those with the best intentions for their health and fitness are not always making a sensible choice.

Although a Tropical Fruit Smoothie from Dunkin' Donuts sounds healthy, the 540 calories it packs for a 24-ounce serving are as many calories as the average person should consume during lunch.

Based on a 2,000-calorie diet, this would then comprise almost 30 percent of the recommended daily energy intake. Only 35 of those calories come from fat, but because calories add up into pounds, a low-fat drink does not necessarily translate to a lean body.

And a 24-ounce 'Caribbean Passion' from Jamba Juice isn't much better, packing 440 calories, more than a quarter of the 1,800 calories recommended for most women.

A better alternative is the Starbucks Tangerine Frappuccino Juice Blend. A 16-ounce grande contains 170 calories and is completely fat free. For the especially fit-conscious, the 70-calorie Tazo Orange Passion Shaken Iced Tea from Starbucks still has a fruity taste at less than half the calories.

Many retailers, including Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts and Jamba Juice, also have lighter options of summertime favorites. For example, while many Jamba Juice flavors contain more than 400 calories for an "original" 24-ounce serving, a 16-ounce Strawberry Light is only 150 calories.

Another healthy and simple solution is to blend a few pieces of fruit and ice cubes together to make a homemade smoothie. Homemade versions of these drinks is the best way to ensure no sugar or fats (in the form of milk or cream) are added. Also, much of the fiber and protein of the fruits you use will be retained.

Ice Cream Drinks

A medium chocolate milkshake at Burger King amounts to 690 calories. Marginally better, a medium vanilla or chocolate Frosty at Wendy's adds an average 420 calories onto your daily intake. All comparable milkshakes at McDonald's are within the 550 to 580 calorie range.

But a large Dairy Queen Oreo Cookie Blizzard has a whopping 1,000 calories, but that number shrinks to 560 for a small serving of the same treat.

Unlike other beverages, most companies do not have a lighter alternative to milkshakes and ice cream drinks. The only way to indulge while cutting calories is to choose a smaller serving size, or making one at home with frozen yogurt.

And while frozen yogurt is often a better option, it can still pack a caloric punch. A 24-ounce Chocolate M'ood from Jamba Juice does not contain any ice cream but still registers at 680 calories. For anyone counting calories, any blended ice cream or frozen yogurt drink is best enjoyed as a special treat instead of daily refreshment.

Iced Coffee and Tea

Iced coffee and tea is, in its pure form, a very low calorie summer drink. The Starbucks Café Americano is only 15 calories, and even an Iced Grande Latte has only 150 calories — 90 if it has skim milk. Ice tea calories lie within a similar range of 80 to 130 calories for all the Starbucks Tazo Shaken Iced Teas.

Anyone substituting milkshakes with fancy iced coffee is in for a rude awakening. An Iced Orange Mocha with whip cream (Starbucks) is 400 calories. The U.S. Department of Health says that "any single food item over 400 calories is considered high calorie."

To cut calories, say no to some of the extras in the coffee, such as whole milk, whipped cream, or caramel. Leaving out the whipped cream from most drinks can save in excess of 100 calories. Many coffee drinks, like fruit drinks, also come in lighter versions. An iced café Americano, iced coffee or Vanilla Iced Latte Lite (Dunkin' Donuts) are all equally refreshing at less than 35 calories. Even a Grande Light Frappuccino has a modest 130 calories compared to 240 for the original of the same size.

To stay slim, people do not have to remove all icy, cool drinks from their summer indulgences. By staying physically active while consuming these high-calorie drinks in moderation, anyone can lead a balanced lifestyle without giving up a favorite refreshing beverage. Also, many companies post full calorie listings online, so it is worthwhile to check out see how your favorite drink measures up.

This article was reviewed by Dr. Manny Alvarez.