Around dinner time one night, a friend brags that he hasn’t eaten anything all day. He says it as if it were something to be proud of, like a badge of honor.
What is true is that he hasn’t yet chewed anything. He has, however, drunk six cans of soda: two for breakfast, two around lunchtime and another two as in-between-meal thirst quenchers. And he can’t understand why he doesn’t lose weight. After all, he rations, he only eats one meal a day.
Many times, it’s what we drink that can keep us from losing those extra pounds or even contribute to piling on more.
Beverages are big business. The global beverage market is forecast to reach nearly $1.4 billion by 2017. What is driving this isn’t the traditional non-alcoholic (coffee, tea, milk and juice) or even alcoholic drinks (beer and wine). Instead, it’s a flood of products specially formulated to fill the niche for the latest, greatest diet and culinary trends. Hence, there is a dizzying array of energy, sports, herbal, dairy, non-dairy, vitamin-infused and sparkling drinks as well as craft beer, wine coolers and blender mixed drinks.
What all of these have in common is calories. Total calorie consumption and obesity among folks in the developed world has been steadily rising in recent years. This trajectory parallels the fast rate we guzzle calorie-containing beverages. Too many sugary drinks, it seems, are making us all bigger.
Studies show that drinking sugary beverages does add inches and piles on the pounds. For example, researchers in Spain found that of the 2,000-plus subjects they studied, those who upped their intake of soft drinks by an average 3 1/2 ounces daily over a decade expanded their waistlines by half an inch or more.
What’s more, research who looked at a mix of nearly 1,000 U.S. Caucasian, Hispanic and African-American adults aged 20 to 39 years found that the greater the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, the greater the likelihood of abdominal as well as total body obesity.
So, just how many calories do popular sugar-sweetened beverages provide? Sports drinks have about 60 in an 8-ounce or 1-cup serving. This is the caloric equivalent of one slice of bread.
Juice-drinks, 100 percent fruit juice and soft drinks average about 120 calories a cup. Double the serving with popular 16-ounce serving sizes and the tally jumps to 240 calories or an eighth of a moderately active woman’s daily calorie needs.
Two-percent-fat milk and soy beverages average 120 calories per cup.
Alcoholic beverages can really be calorific. While a 4-ounce glass of red or white wine serves up about 100 calories and a 12-ounce beer 180 calories, mixed drinks can provide as many or more calories as a candy bar. An 8-ounce pina colada is 312 calories, a 6.3-ounce margarita is 327 calories and a 12-ounce mudslide (made with vodka, coffee liqueur, Irish cream and vanilla ice cream) is 820 calories.
There are several ways to cut excess beverage calories. A switch to diet soft drinks may sound like a good idea. However, research shows that consumption of these drinks can increase belly fat through a mechanism linked to how the phosphoric acid in these drinks is metabolized in our bodies.
The best way that does work is swapping sugar-sweetened beverages for water. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston have estimated that replacing just 1 cup of a sweet drink with 1 cup of water each day leads to 1 pound less in weight gain over a four year period.
Other ways to cut down beverage calories is to reduce portion size. Instead of a 12-ounce juice, choose a standard 6-ounce serving and cut calories in half.
Finally, instead of drinking juice, eat the fruit. So eat an orange instead of drinking orange juice. The whole fruit provides vital fluids and nutrients, plus dietary fiber that keeps you filled up instead of out.
Think before you drink to prevent unwanted weight gain. If my friend had done that, we would have realized those 840 calories from half a dozen Cokes provided as many calories as a full meal.
Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and a regular contributor to The Triton. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.