Think Before You Drink
New Beverage Guidelines Reject Sugary Drinks, Offer Healthy Choices
March 10, 2006 -- Avoid drinking calories, new beverage guidelines
Why beverage guidelines? Americans consume far too many calories. And at
least a fifth of these calories come from things we drink. The worst offenders:
sugar-sweetened soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit drinks, and sugary tea and
Now a blue-ribbon panel of six leading U.S. nutrition experts has come up
with guidelines for healthy drinking. The panel's chairman is Barry M. Popkin,
PhD, professor of nutrition, head of nutrition epidemiology, and director of
the Interdisciplinary Center for Obesity at the University of North Carolina at
"Everybody -- parents, adults, and teenagers -- has to realize what they
drink is adding to their weight," Popkin tells WebMD. "We want people
to think about their entire portfolio of beverages and change that to make for
a much healthier America."
The new guidelines are complicated. Too complicated, says Madelyn Fernstrom,
PhD, CNS, founder and director of the weight management center at the
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Her formula is much simpler
"When it comes to calories, think before you drink
anything," Fernstrom tells WebMD. She was not a member of the
beverage guideline panel.
Popkin agrees the new guidelines are complex. But he argues that they're no
more complex than the choices that confront us.
"We are being faced with a billion beverages," he says. "Every
year, the food industry adds 1,000 new beverage choices."
Water, Water Everywhere
The panel notes that there's no need to get nutrition from beverages if we
eat a balanced diet. That means all we really need to drink is water, Popkin
and Fernstrom say.
Few of us, however, would be happy with water as our only beverage.
Moreover, moderate amounts of other beverages -- tea and alcoholic drinks, for
example -- appear to have health benefits.
But there's a problem. When we eat too many calories, we feel stuffed and
sated. When we drink too many calories, Popkin says, we don't feel as
satisfied. If our bellies won't tell us when to stop, we have to use our
That's where the guidelines come in. They offer recommendations for how to
use every conceivable kind of beverage in a healthy way. These guidelines are
for adults and adolescents. Young children, obviously, should not drink some of
these beverages -- and need a lot more milk.
Healthy Beverage Options
So what should we drink?
- Water. It quenches thirst and still has zero calories. Even with water,
however, too much is -- well, too much. "Drinking for thirst is
sufficient," Fernstrom says.
- Unsweetened tea and coffee. These beverages contain caffeine. A little
caffeine is good for you, Popkin says. But don't consume more than 400
milligrams per day (8 ounces of brewed coffee has 132 milligrams of caffeine; 8
ounces of tea has about 40 milligrams).
- Skim or low-fat milk or soy beverages, up to 16 ounces a day.
- Artificially sweetened beverages, up to 32 ounces a day. If you choose
coffee, tea or soda, watch the caffeine. Popkin says there's no proof that
artificial sweeteners are bad for you -- but because the data are slim, the
panel was "uneasy" about recommending them.