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Avoid Weight Gain: Watch What You Drink

Here's how to keep from drowning in liquid calories.
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

For anyone trying to watch his or her weight, the term "liquid calories" can be downright frightening. And well it should. After all, the calories we drink go quickly down the hatch, no chewing required.

Don't get me wrong; I enjoy the occasional Starbucks Caffe Mocha as much as the next gal. It's just that the calories we drink on a day-to-day basis count in a big way -- especially as we get older.

Case in point: that Caffe Mocha I was just talking about? On a daily basis, it would add 300 calories (that's with whole milk and no whipped cream) or 400 calories (with whipped cream) per 16-ounce beverage. Adding the word "white" adds even more calories. A White Chocolate Mocha totals 410 calories (whole milk, no whip) or 510 calories (with whip). In my world, 510 calories is an entire meal!

Of course, you can order the mocha with nonfat milk or soymilk and bring it down to 220 calories (nonfat milk, no whip) or 260 calories (soy milk, no whip). But even then, if you do this every day, you'll tally up 1,540 calories a week (with nonfat milk) -- and 6,160 calories per month. And that doesn't even include any drinks you might have during the rest of the day. If you have a mocha in the morning, a couple of sodas or sweetened bottled teas in the afternoon, then a glass of wine in the evening -- well, let's do the math:

Caffe mocha, 16 oz., (nonfat milk, no whip)220
12-ounce soda140
12-ounce sweetened bottled teaabout 116
8 ounces white wine or 12 ounces of beerabout 150
Total:626 calories

Then consider that 626 liquid calories per day = 4,382 liquid calories per week = 17,528 liquid calories per month!

That's a truckload of calories -- definitely bad news. But the good news is that if you substituted no-calorie beverages for all those drinks, it would mean a truckload of calories saved. And calories saved translate into potential pounds lost -- approximately 5 pounds per month, if you use the 17,528-calories-per month calculation above. Now do I have your attention?

I'm certainly not the only one concerned about the issue of liquid calories. A national Beverage Guidance Panel made up of six leading nutrition experts came together recently to decide on beverage guidelines for the U.S.

The panel made a list of recommendations, but the item that impressed me most was their ranking of beverages to fulfill our daily liquid needs. Water was ranked as the preferred beverage (big surprise); followed by tea and coffee; and low-fat (1% or 1.5%) and skim milk and soy beverages. Ranked after that were artificially sweetened beverages, then fruit juices and alcoholic beverages (which have calories but some nutritional benefits), then whole milk, and then sugar-sweetened drinks.

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