Is what you drink more important than what you eat?

Apr 14, 2009 | By: Christie Wilcox

Featured, Food

Most of us feel like we could be a little more toned or lose those couple of extra pounds of belly fat. Yet we diet, eat less, and still seem to have the same problems. Sure, part of the problem is our nit-picky view of our bodies, but there might just be another problem, too. We’re watching what we eat, not what we drink.

Scientists from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, MD have found that the liquid calories we drink, in everything from sports drinks to soda, have more of an effect on our weight than the solid ones. So even if we eat less, having that frappachino every morning from Starbucks or that can of Coke at lunch is holding us back from losing the weight we should, according to the new research published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It’s not that you are what you eat – you are what you drink.

Liquid Calories – why we have so much trouble losing weight

can-of-coke

The can of classic coke

The beverages we consume are loaded with calories. Take a generic can of Coke – every can has about 150 calories in it. Drink a few of those and you’ve drank the calorie allotment for an entire meal. Sure, you say, you’ve known soda is unhealthy for awhile. But other drinks are loaded with sweet calories, too. A glass of orange juice, when not freshly squeezed or unsweetened, will run you the same calorie load as a can of Coke. Even one of those big Gatorades will cost you – 32 oz has 200 calories in it. We often drink things without even realizing how many calories we’re consuming. And even though they might say they’re vitamin-enhanced, packed with caffeine or ginseng, or a whole host of other “healthy” or “weight-fighting” ingredients, they’re still full of calories, too. And those calories, just like the ones we eat, add up quickly.

Only recently have scientists begun to realize just how much of an impact the calories we drink have on our bodies. The researchers found that liquid calories accounted for a staggering 20% of the daily energy intake of the 810 participants which were of different ages, genders, races and walks of life. Just think about it – if you consume the recommended 2,000 calories a day, that means that 400 of them are coming from beverages alone. It’s no wonder, then, that people struggle to lose weight when they simply change their eating habits. Especially considering our bodies don’t process the calories contained in beverages nearly as efficiently as they do the ones in food.

Maybe some water instead?  Image courtesy of Flickr user: Gaetan Lee

Maybe some water instead? Image courtesy of Flickr user: Gaetan Lee

In fact, the study found that reducing liquid calorie intake by 100 calories a day, which is less than a can of coke, led to five times the weight loss produced by the same reduction in solid calories over six months. FIVE TIMES. That means for every pound you lost cutting out those delicious little chocolate eggs you wished you could have splurged on this weekend, you could have lost five pounds by drinking nothing but water. And the most significant source of liquid calories? Sugar-sweetened beverages. They accounted for 37% of the liquid calories consumed by the participants. But, of course, that means that the diet drinks, 100% juices, and even morning lattes are weighing in pretty heavily, too – 63% of our liquid calories, in fact. So just cutting the worst offenders like soda will still leave you drinking an average of 250 liquid calories a day.

If you were to replace everything you drank with water, assuming you consume the 20% or so average, you could lose over 2.5 lbs in six months without cutting a bite of food or lifting a finger. Just imagine, then, how much you could lose if you cut the sugary drinks, ate a little less or a little healthier, and actually increased your exercise levels just a bit. Changing your drinking habits will have a big impact towards those weight and nutrition goals that always seem just out of reach.

The bottom line – we already knew better, didn’t we?

While the new research really puts the liquid calories in perspective, it doesn’t tell us anything we shouldn’t already know. Let’s face it – we already knew that those high-cal drinks weren’t that great for us, particularly when it comes to losing weight. We knew that we should cut down on drinking too much sugar-sweetned beverages. And we knew that just cutting out soda alone isn’t going to turn us into super models – real weight loss takes a combined effort of nutrition and exercise. All the research does is remind us that it’s not just what you eat that matters – what you drink matters, too.

Reference:

Chen, L., Appel, L., Loria, C., Lin, P., Champagne, C., Elmer, P., Ard, J., Mitchell, D., Batch, B., Svetkey, L., & Caballero, B. (2009). Reduction in consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with weight loss: the PREMIER trial American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89 (5), 1299-1306 DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.27240

  • Chris P

    Which is the lesser of two evils: An energy drink loaded with sucralose or loaded with sugar? I am sure each has their positives and advantages since one of those was created in a laboratory only a few years ago…

    While I realize that the best answer would be to ignore both, I enjoy energy drinks immensely and would like your opinion.

  • Chris P

    Which is the lesser of two evils: An energy drink loaded with sucralose or loaded with sugar? I am sure each has their positives and advantages since one of those was created in a laboratory only a few years ago…

    While I realize that the best answer would be to ignore both, I enjoy energy drinks immensely and would like your opinion.

  • http://nutritionwonderland.com Christie

    Well… The studies I’ve seen seem positive about sucralose. It’s considered to be non-toxic and no-calorie, presumably meaning it’s “ok” and “not bad for you”. However, since it’s relatively new and doesn’t get broken down like regular sugar in our bodies, I’m not sure the science is complete on its possible side effects. After all, how can we know the long-term effects if there hasn’t been a long-term for someone to look at? Does it harm you if you drink a couple diet drinks a day for fifty years? We just don’t really know. And we’ve just started linking it to migraines, and the mechanism of the connection isn’t clear. So I, personally, would be wary of it, but so far the science largely supports its claims.

    Besides, if you’re pounding those energy drinks, you’ve got other stuff to worry about, like the high caffeine levels… :)

  • http://nutritionwonderland.com Christie

    Well… The studies I’ve seen seem positive about sucralose. It’s considered to be non-toxic and no-calorie, presumably meaning it’s “ok” and “not bad for you”. However, since it’s relatively new and doesn’t get broken down like regular sugar in our bodies, I’m not sure the science is complete on its possible side effects. After all, how can we know the long-term effects if there hasn’t been a long-term for someone to look at? Does it harm you if you drink a couple diet drinks a day for fifty years? We just don’t really know. And we’ve just started linking it to migraines, and the mechanism of the connection isn’t clear. So I, personally, would be wary of it, but so far the science largely supports its claims.

    Besides, if you’re pounding those energy drinks, you’ve got other stuff to worry about, like the high caffeine levels… :)

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