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Smart Beverage Choices

When it comes to weight loss, what you drink is just as important as what you eat. A new study has found that beverages compose 20 percent of daily caloric intake and 50 percent of excess calories consumed daily (statistics for Americans ages two and above).

These are beverages like soft drinks, fruit drinks, smoothies, and specialty coffees.

Liquid calories can contribute to weight gain because they are not as obvious as food calories. People will usually eat less when they have eaten too many calories but they don’t make any adjustments when they have drunk the same amount of calories.

Nutritionists like Barry Popkin believe that consumers need to be aware of the beverages they are drinking. He headed a study published last month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which has proposed a “Beverage Guidance System” (BGS) similar to the food pyramid.

He writes, “A healthy diet does not rely on fluids to provide energy or nutrient needs. Therefore, potable water could be used to fulfill almost all the fluid needs of healthy individuals. However, to allow all for variety and individual preferences, healthful diets may include several other types of beverages.”

The BGS has six levels from “most preferred” (level 1) to “least preferred”. (level 6) in terms of calorie content and health benefits. Eight-ounces is the standard portion size.

The bottom line recommendation is “that the consumption of beverages with no or few calories should take precedence over the consumption of beverages with more calories”.

Level 1: Water
Women should drink nine glasses of fluid a day while men should drink 13 glasses. Ideally, the majority of fluid needs should come from water (the BGS recommends at least 60%).

Level 2: Tea and coffee
Unsweetened tea and coffee have zero calories and various health benefits. Tea may help enhance the immune system, increase bone density, reduce tooth decay, reduce kidney stones, and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Non-caffeinated herbal teas like ginger, chamomile, and peppermint are also calorie-free and have their own specific health benefits.

Coffee may help reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease (in men). Moderate consumption (up to 400 mg of caffeine or four cups of coffee) by healthy individuals will not increase the risk of heart disease, hypertension, osteoporosis or high cholesterol. However, boiled unfiltered coffee can raise total and LDL cholesterol.

Coffee consumption of up to 500 mg daily will not cause dehydration or chronic water imbalance.

Gourmet or specialty coffees loaded with extras like sugar, whole milk, cream, and chocolate should be considered similar to desserts – a high-calorie treat to have occasionally.

Level 3: Milk and soy
Non-fat (skim) and low fat (1%) milk or yogurt drinks are a source of calcium, vitamin D, and high-quality protein. Soy milk is an alternative for those who are lactose intolerant.

Whole milk is not recommended by the BGS (except for children below the age of two) because of its higher calorie and fat content (150 calories compared to 80 calories for non-fat milk).

Level 4: Artificially sweetened beverages
“Diet” drinks provide sweetness without the calories and therefore, in terms of weight loss, would be preferable to drinks with calories. However, the BGS points out two areas that need further research: The safety of long-term use of artificial sweeteners and the theory that diet drinks may increase sugar cravings.

Level 5: Juices, sports drinks, alcohol
The BGS recommends eating whole fruits and vegetables instead of taking them in juice form because of the increased caloric content and decreased fiber content.

Sports drinks are only recommended for endurance athletes or those involved in strenuous activities lasting more than 60 minutes under hot and sweaty conditions (when sweat rate is greater than 8 liters per day) Regular exercisers don’t need the extra calories.

Alcohol consumption should be limited to one drink per day for women and two drinks for men.

Level 6: Soft drinks, fruit drinks
The least recommended drinks are those sweetened with high fructose corn syrup or sucrose. These include soft drinks and fruit drinks (sweetened drinks that contain very little real juice). These drinks are high in calories but low in nutrient value.

Acceptable range
According to the BGS, these are the acceptable ranges for 98 ounces of fluid per day.
· Water – 20 to 50 ounces per day
· Unsweetened tea or coffee – 0 to 40 ounces per day (more than 32 ounces of coffee can affect water balance)
· Low-fat/skim milk and soy beverages – 0 to 16 ounces per day
· Diet drinks – 0 to 32 ounces per day
· 100% fruit juices – 0 to 8 ounces
· Soft drinks and fruit drinks – 0 to 8 ounces.

To read the complete study, go to http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/83/3/529

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