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Is what you're drinking helping or hindering your weight loss efforts?

What you drink does impact your calorie intake. The average American currently derives 21% of their caloric intake from beverages, which adds up to a whopping 464 calories a day! The majority of those are empty-calories coming from sweetened beverages.[i]

For a little perspective, decades ago, the earliest soft drinks were sold in 6.5-oz bottles (78-calories) and were a very occasional treat. Today the average soft drink serving is 21-ounces (up from 13.6 oz. in 1977), and clocks in at a whopping 252-calories. Not only that, but over the same time frame servings per day increased from 1.96 to 2.39.

Researchers estimate that half the increase in the average body mass index (BMI; a ratio of height to weight) over this time frame is attributable to this increase in liquid calories.

Why would sweetened beverages be associated with weight gain? Aside the fact that sweetened beverages provide empty-calories, the likely reason they are associated with higher body weights is that we humans don’t adjust our intake of solid foods to compensate for our intake of liquid calories. While we don’t yet understand why that is, we know that liquids clearly don’t affect satiety, and that’s a real problem since they deliver hundreds of calories per serving.[ii]

You may be be thinking, "what about the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)?" Forget all the HFCS hype; here’s the deal: the difference between table sugar (sucrose) and HFCS is physiologically irrelevant. Sucrose is 50% Glucose/50% Fructose, while HFCS is 45% Glucose/55% Fructose. Clearly there is barely a difference between the two, plus a plausible theory as to why HFCS would make any difference is lacking given these facts. The actual problem is that Americans simply eat/drink too much sugar. Period.

Assuming you’re one of the American’s drinking 21-fl. oz. in soft drinks every day, how much weight could you lose if you replaced that soda with water? It would take about a year, but men would drop about 20-pounds and women about 22-pounds! No kidding and what could be simpler?

In 2006 a blue ribbon panel of experts put together a proposed guidance document on beverage intake for Americans—a topic that our dietary guidelines have, so far, failed to address. In the proposal they recommend that the current 21% of calorie intake from beverages be reduced to an Ideal Level of 10%, or at worst an Acceptable Level of 14%. What’s more they recommend that most if not all of that 10- to 14% come from nutritive beverages such as low-fat or skim milk, soy milk, or vegetable juice, and little if any from empty-calorie sweetened beverages.[i]

They also note that while, “FDA-approved noncaloric sweeteners are considered safe… there is no evidence from long-term studies in humans available to this Panel [verifying safety] and is most likely lacking.” Furthermore, emerging research seems to suggest that artificial sweeteners condition a preference for sweetness that is counter productive (to healthy eating and weight management), making diet drink options less desirable than water, (unsweetened) tea or coffee. [i]

At this point you may be wondering about fruit juice, and alcohol. While 100% juice does have nutritive value it is far better to eat your fruit (which provides satiety) than drink it. Alcohol guidelines remain at no more than one drink per day for women or two per day for men.

And finally, it probably seems like common sense that researchers recommend that we ideally get most of our fluid intake from plain water. A 2010 study found that adults who drank 16 oz. of water before meals lost 4.4-lbs. more over 12-weeks than nonwater drinkers following the same reduced-calorie diet.[iii] Other studies find that energy intake in regular water drinkers averages about 200-calories per day less than nonwater drinkers.

Bottom Line: Weaning yourself away from liquid calories benefits your health and your waistline.

Actionable Advice: The best plan to lower your liquid calorie intake is to simply make a plan to drink more water (between, before, and with meals). Secondarily, choose (unsweetened) tea or coffee.


[i] Popkin, BM, et al. A new proposed guidance system for beverage consumption in the United States. Am J Clin Nutr 2006;83:529-542.

[ii] Mattes, RD. Dietary compensation by humans for supplemental energy provided as ethanol or carbohydrates in fluids. Physiol Behav 1996;59:179-187.

[iii] Dennis, EA, et al. Water Consumption Increases Weight Loss During a Hypocaloric Diet Intervention in Middle-aged and Older Adults. Obesity 2010;18:300-307.

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