If you’re among the majority of Americans who are overweight, you struggle with diet problems on a regular basis. If you’re concerned about your weight, you probably watch what you eat and count calories, but do you watch what you drink? If not, you could be sabotaging your diet because liquid calories count, and they add up fast.
“Beverages are probably the biggest hidden source of empty calories in our diets,” says Mark Izzo, PhD, director of science and technology at Orafti Active Food Ingredients. “Even those that are positioned as super-healthy, like grapefruit juice and orange juice can pack 100 calories in 8 ounces.”
“What’s worse is that nobody drinks only 8 ounces. A typical serving is usually 16 ounces. That’s 200 calories for one drink!” says Izzo.
Soda is unquestionably among the many sources of excess calories contributing to the obesity epidemic in this country, says David L. Katz, MD, associate clinical professor of public health and medicine at Yale University School of Medicine and author of The Way to Eat.
“A standard 12-ounce (non-diet) soda has roughly 150 calories,” says Katz. If you drink two or three 12 oz. sodas per day, or just one supersized 44 oz. soda per day, that’s enough calories to gain a pound a week!
Besides the high calorie and sugar content, the problem with sodas is that the calories we drink are usually in addition to—rather than in place of—the calories we eat, which creates real diet problems for people trying to lose weight.
A study published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2000 proves this point. Fifteen healthy men and women consumed an extra 450 calories, in the form of either jelly beans or sodas, every day for four weeks. After four weeks, the soda drinkers switched to jelly beans and vice versa.
When eating the jellybeans, all 15 people in the study reduced the number of calories they took in from other sources to compensate; at the end of the study, they had gained only a small amount of weight. However, the soda drinkers made no such changes in the calories they consumed, and they gained a lot of weight.
This is true for children as well as adults, which was proven by a study published in the June 2003 issue of The Journal of Pediatrics by Cornell University where researchers followed 30 children for two months. According to David Levitsky, professor of nutritional sciences and psychology at Cornell, children who drank more than 12 oz. of sweetened drinks (soda, fruit punch, bottled tea, or drinks made from fruit-flavored powders) per day gained significantly more weight than youngsters who drank less than 6 oz. a day. The reason is that they didn’t reduce the amount of food they ate to make up for the extra calories they drank.
The researchers also found that the youngsters consumed less milk when they drank the sweetened drinks. So they were consuming more calories while reducing their intake of calcium and zinc.
Additionally, sodas contain chemicals and artificial colorings that, quite frankly, you’d be much better off not ingesting. The bottom line is that sodas are basically empty calories that pack on the pounds and provide no nutritional value. While they may satisfy your thirst momentarily, they don’t satisfy your hunger. Sodas provide no benefit to your health and can actually be detrimental if consumed in large quantities on a regular basis. So to avoid diet problems, it’s best to limit your consumption of sodas, or better yet, eliminate sodas from your diet all together.
Sodas aren’t the only beverages that create diet problems. Tea and coffee by themselves have no calories, but added sweeteners, flavorings and toppings can turn a standard cup of coffee into a major calorie-fest. For example, a large Starbucks Mocha Coconut Frappuccino with whipped cream contains an alarming 710 calories and 26 grams of fat! Drink one of those a day in addition to your regular diet and that’s enough added calories to gain over 74 lbs. in one year!
And when it comes to drinking alcohol, the calories add up fast as well. The average glass of wine or bottle of beer contains about 100-150 calories, but people usually don’t stop at just one. Plus, people tend to overeat when they are drinking—especially the kinds of high calorie, salty snacks that are often served with drinks at “happy hours” and parties.
Diet sodas are usually calorie-free, yet they contain non-nutritious ingredients including artificial sweeteners. Although artificial sweeteners are approved by the FDA, it’s advisable to limit your consumption of diet sodas to no more than a few per day.
Skim and low-fat milk and unsweetened juices are much more nutritious choices for you and should be incorporated into a healthy meal plan. However, if you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll get much better results if you drink water and other zero- or low-calorie beverages instead.
To avoid diet problems caused by liquid calories, here are some healthy beverage alternatives for you to try:
- Spice up plain water by adding a slice of lemon, lime, or orange, or a sprig of mint. This will add flavor but not calories.
- Drink green tea or other herbal teas, which contain healthy phytonutrients.
- Try seltzer water with a splash of juice like orange, grapefruit, cranberry, mango, or guava.
- Drink homemade lemonade made with fresh-squeezed lemons, water, and a few drops of Stevia, a natural artificial sweetener.
SOURCES: The Journal of Pediatrics, June 2003. News release, Cornell University. Mark Izzo, PhD, director of science and technology, Orafti Active Food Ingredients, Malvern, Pa. David L. Katz, MD, associate clinical professor of public health and medicine, Yale University.