Sweetened Drinks and Your Weight

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sweetened drinks

The beverage industry has been flourishing over the last several years. Do you feel like fruit drink, flavored fortified “water,” or green, black or white iced tea? What about a sport drink, energy drink or coffee drink? And of course the old standby, soda, is still available. These drinks all have something in common: they contain plenty of sweeteners.

National survey data shows that energy intake from beverages more than doubled between 1965 and 2001. Regular sodas remain the most popular beverage in the U.S. today at an intake of over 35 gallons per person per year.

Effect of Calories in Beverages

Several research studies have shown that people tend to gain more weight from liquid calories than from the equivalent amount of calories from a solid food. Consequently, reducing sweetened beverages in the diet tends to promote weight loss.

A research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in May 2009 revealed that each daily 12-ounce serving of sweetened soft drink eliminated from the diet resulted in one pound of weight loss after six months. The researchers compared the effect of liquid versus solid forms of calories. For every 100 fewer liquid calories consumed per day, participants averaged two-thirds of a pound of weight loss after six months and 0.44 pounds at 18 months. When participants cut 100 calories worth of food per day, they lost significantly less weight (0.13 pounds at 6 months and 0.2 pounds at 18 months). Considering that half of the 150 to 300 calories added to the typical American diet over the past 30 years have come from beverages, limiting sweetened beverages could have a big impact on weight.

Why Sweetened Drinks Cause Weight Gain

Different hypothesis exist to explain the phenomenon. Some researchers believed that fluids don’t stimulate feelings of fullness like solids do, thus overall energy intake from all forms is not balanced. In other words, when drinks containing sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, other sweeteners, or even alcohol are consumed, people don’t adjust their total caloric intake from solid foods to account for these drink calories.

Indeed, research shows that individuals consuming beverages shortly before or with a meal eat the same number of calories as individuals consuming a calorie-free beverage. Sweetened caloric and alcoholic beverages appear to release different chemicals in the gastrointestinal track than do milk and food, affecting their ability to make people feel full.

Other researchers point to human evolution as an explanation for why sweetened beverages cause weight gain. Humans have evolved between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago, and for all but the last 11,000 years of that evolution, the most common beverages available were water and breast milk. After childhood, people only drank calorie-free water for the majority of human history.

Wolf and his colleagues discuss the history of beverages and how the body deals with them in Obesity Reviews. They hypothesize that “humans may lack a physiological basis for processing carbohydrate or alcoholic calories in beverage because only breast milk and water were available for the vast majority of our evolutionary history” (Obesity Reviews; 2008: 9, 151-164).

Tips to Decrease Intake of Sweetened Beverages

Regardless of why soda and other sweetened drinks cause increased calorie intake, there is no doubt that cutting down will help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Here are some suggestions to help you switch to healthier beverages:
  • Water is of course the beverage of choice for quenching thirst. If you find it difficult to drink straight water, try squeezing some lemon or lime in it for a bit of flavor.
  • Diet sodas are a good alternative to regular sodas. Better yet, use seltzer with a splash of 100% fruit juice for a low calorie beverage.
  • Drink 1% or skim milk with your meals when possible. The combination of fat, protein and carbohydrate is better detected than when the liquid contains only carbohydrate. Plus it will help keep your bones strong.
  • At restaurants, you can save some money and your health by requesting a glass of water instead of soda or juice.

So next time you are offered a soda, juice box or sweetened iced tea, think water. Limiting your liquid calorie intake can only help you maintain or achieve a healthy weight.

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