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Trying to Lose Weight? Watch What You Drink

Liquid Calories Add Up Quickly
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic-Exclusive Feature

You're trying to lose a few pounds, so you're watching what you put on your plate. But are you watching what's in that mug, or glass, or can? If not, you just might be sabotaging your weight-loss efforts.

"Beverages are probably the biggest hidden source of empty calories in our diets," says Mark Izzo, PhD, director of science and technology at Orafti Active Food Ingredients. "Even those that are positioned as super-healthy, like grapefruit juice and orange juice, can pack 100 calories in 8 ounces."

"What's worse," says Izzo, "is that nobody drinks only 8 ounces. A typical serving is usually 16 ounces. That's 200 calories for one drink!"

And then there's soda, which contributes few useful nutrients but plenty of calories in the form of sweeteners. A 20-ounce soda, for example, has the equivalent of 18 teaspoons of sugar.

Soda is unquestionably among the many sources of excess calories contributing to the obesity epidemic in this country, says David L. Katz, MD, associate clinical professor of public health and medicine at Yale University School of Medicine and author of The Way to Eat.

"A standard 12-ounce (non-diet) soda has roughly 150 calories," says Katz. Drink two or three of those a day and that's enough calories to gain a pound a week! And just think what a supersized (44-ounce) drink can do -- just one a day can lead to an extra pound per week.

More Calories, Less Satisfaction

"Some of the calories consumed in soda may be taken out of the diet elsewhere," says Katz, but he doesn't think that's necessarily a good thing. "Sodas provide no nutrient value, while the foods eliminated may. Further, the calories we drink are likely to be added to, rather than replaced by the calories we eat."

A study published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2000 bears this out. Fifteen healthy men and women consumed an extra 450 calories, in the form of either jellybeans or soda, every day for four weeks. After four weeks, the soda drinkers switched to jelly beans and vice versa.

When eating the jellybeans, all 15 people in the study reduced the number of calories they took in from other sources to compensate; at the end of the study, they had gained only a small amount of weight. Those drinking the soda, however, made no such changes in the calories they consumed. No surprise here: The soda drinkers gained a lot of weight!

The take-away message? Liquid calories don't tend to fill you up and satisfy your hunger as well as those from solid foods. Soft drinks quench your thirst -- and add calories -- but do little to fill your belly.

This holds true for children as well as adults.

In a study published in the June issue of The Journal of Pediatrics, Cornell University researchers followed 30 children over two months. According to David Levitsky, professor of nutritional sciences and psychology at Cornell, children who drank more than 12 ounces of sweetened drinks (soda, fruit punch, bottled tea, or drinks made from fruit-flavored powders) per day gained significantly more weight than youngsters who drank less than 6 ounces a day. The reason? They didn't reduce the amount of food they ate to make up for the extra calories in the drinks.

The researchers also found that the more sweetened beverages the youngsters consumed, the less milk they drank. So not only were they taking in more calories, they were getting less calcium and zinc than is recommended.

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