Invigorate Nutrition

The Festive Spirit - should we 'rein' ourselves in?

So it’s the New Year again! Minds turn from work to weather, from schedules to socialising, from frantic to family. Many of us will reflect on the year just been, and set expectations for next year. Christmas and the New Year is a great time for socialising with friends and family, and much of that centres around food.

We are lucky in New Zealand that we have an abundance of summer’s fresh produce to indulge in. Cherries, stonefruit, new potatoes, peas and salad vegetables. Our Christmas food is so different to those in the Northern Hemisphere; it feels fresher – maybe because we are often outside beside the BBQ or down at the lake or beach.

Lately I’ve been looking at beverage alternatives for the festive season. There seems to be two types of beverages around us. One is high calorie and nutrient poor, has a robust marketing budget to drive summer sales. This type I’ll call ‘commercial’. These drinks are formulated to appeal to our demand for taste (ie. sugar) and frequently associate themselves with a well-marketed ‘lifestyle’ or ‘emotion’ so that you choose their product over their competitors.

The other type is low kilojoule (calorie), and are sometimes nutrient rich. These may have a small, if any, marketing budget.  If they are sold in your supermarket they could be on a small section of shelving either way above eye level, or way below (or in the tea section). This type I’ll call ‘energetic’. While they have less ‘energy’ in the calorie sense of the word, you’ll feel more energtic for consuming them! And they are not the ‘energy’ drinks that use funky youth and adventure sport marketing, loaded with caffeine and either sugar or sweeteners (energy for five minutes perhaps).

In fact, because this term ‘energy’ can get confusing in this space, I am going to refer to ‘kilojoules’ when I refer to food energy here. Kilojoules is the term that we use for the energy that you eat in your diet. Americans (on the imperial system) use the term calories. There are 4.18 kilojoules in one calorie (Fact of the Day!).  If I refer to kilojoules as the food energy, I can reserve the term ‘energy’ for how energetic you feel – it should be a positive word!

At this time of year it is easy to get into the habit of drinking more of these high calorie drinks (and more alcohol) than usual. In Table 1 I have put together a list of beverages, their energy content, and their cost. I found this exercise really interesting! Soda water and sparkling water have piqued my interest, and I’ve also been looking for recipe ideas to jazz these up a bit. Some ideas include serving your water with ginger, mint, lemon or herbal/fruit teabags. A good project to do with the kids one day can be to chop up pieces of summer fruit or mint and and pop into ice cube trays to freeze.

One of my favourite websites for recipes is Healthy Food Guide NZ, here is the link for their beverage recipes in case you would like a browse:

Table 1: Approximate kilojoule (kJ) content and price per 200mL serve of various beverages


kilojoules per 200 mL

Price ($NZ)

Water from tap at home

0 kJ


Still water from supermarket

0 kJ


Sparkling water

0 kJ


Soda water

0 kJ


Instant coffee (1 tsp)

8 kJ


Long Black Coffee (café)

8 kJ


Green tea, peppermint tea

11 kJ


Coconut water

120 kJ


Beer – Low alcohol (2.5%)

140 kJ


Beer – regular alcohol (4.5%)

225 kJ


Trim Cappuccino, no sugar

240 kJ


Energy drink

250 kJ


Vodka / Whisky, no mixer added

255 kJ (in 1 nip)


Sports drink

258 kJ


Trim (green top) milk (varying brands)

340 kJ


Orange Juice

340 kJ


Soft drink (varying brands)

360 kJ


Reduced fat (Lite Blue) milk

400 kJ


Flavoured milk

520 kJ


Original (dark blue top) milk

540 kJ


Wine – White or Red (~$18 bottle)

620 kJ



As Table 1 shows, we can quickly add a LOT of extra kilojoules into our diet with certain drinks. This is due partly to the kilojoule content of the drink we choose, and partly due to our drinking habits when consuming them. Some alcoholic beverages contain both alcohol (which provides 29 kilojoules per gram) and sugar (providing 17 kilojoules per gram). A low-sugar alcoholic beverage certainly does not make it kilojoule free – and the higher the percent of alcohol in it, the more grams of alcohol (and thus kilojoules) it will contain. Then you may or may not choose to add more kilojoules via any mixers you add. Thus, the energy content of these drinks can add up quickly! In my experience, drinking less alcohol has been a very effective weight loss strategy for my clients – and might be something you want to consider this summer.

For example, one dozen low alcohol lagers contributes 1,680 kJ. That is almost a meal’s worth of kilojoules – but lower in nutrients. That is also just over eight standard drinks of alcohol content. For optimal long term health the Health Promotion Agency recommends less than three standard drinks a day for men, and less than two standard drinks for women, with two alcohol-free days a week.

A dozen normal strength lagers adds up to 2,700kJ. That is a lunch or light dinner kilojoule equivalent right there. Definitely not a dinner’s worth of nutrients though. 

Six 200ml glasses of red or white wine adds up to 3,720 kJ. That could be the kilojoule content of your breakfast and lunch combined! Would you eat two breakfasts and two lunches in a day and expect to maintain a healthy body weight? Unless perhaps you are in training for the Ironman!

While the trim cappucino has a similar kilojoule content as regular strength beer, not many of us would down six coffee’s in a row would we?

So this social season, help yourselves and your friends get the most out of your summer and boost everyone’s energy levels. Sometimes we can feel that everyone expects to eat and drink this way over festive period, but you may be surprised.  It’s also a great way to show your children a great ‘normal’ too, at a time when family is our focus.   

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