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Empty Calories Sabotage Weight Control

For the millions of Americans who are trying to lose extra weight, the solution may not be in what you eat, but in what you drink.

"Believe it or not, more than 20 percent of our daily calories come from the things that we drink," said Susan Aaronson, MS, RD, wellness coordinator for the MFit Health Promotion Division at the University of Michigan Health System.

"In fact, the World Health Organization recommends that people consume only about 10 percent of their calories from liquids. So those extra calories from liquid beverages are adding to American's obesity epidemic, making it more difficult for people to lose weight," she said.

To help you make healthier beverage choices - from soda and sports drinks to fruit juice and milk - and cut back on calories, Aaronson offers the following tips.

  • Soft drinks: "Soda is full of sugar and empty calories, making it a major contributor to the obesity problem in the United States," said Aaronson. "If you chose to eliminate one can of soda each day, which contains about 9 teaspoons of sugar, you can lose about a pound in 1 month; and over the course of a year, you can lose up to 15 pounds." If you absolutely can't eliminate soft drinks completely, drink diet soda or reserve it for special occasions.
  • Fruit and vegetable juices: "Read the label carefully," cautions Aaronson. "If a juice label says that it's 'made with real fruit juice,' it may actually contain less than 10 percent of 'real' juice and about 7 teaspoons of sugar. The best juice drinks to pick are those that say they contain '100 percent juice.'" Limit yourself to one serving or 5 ounces of juice a day. The rest of your daily servings of fruits and vegetables should come from the real thing.
  • Milk: Choosing low-fat milks can help you save hundreds of calories each day. Milk also contains vital nutrients such as calcium, protein, vitamin D, and vitamin A that you won't find in other beverages. Plus, it is recommended that you get 3 servings of dairy every day. To get the most from your milk, Aaronson said to choose 1 percent, 1/2 percent or skim milk. With these options, you will still get all the nutrients your body needs but without the extra calories and fat.
  • Sports and energy drinks: Although sports drinks replenish your body with electrolytes that help you retain water and stay hydrated, they still contain a lot of calories - one-half to one-third the amount of sugar you'll find in soft drinks. "Sports drinks were actually developed for endurance athletes," said Aaronson. "So if you plan to exercise for more than one continuous hour, then sports drinks are for you." Energy drinks have little nutritional value. They are loaded with calories. "They'll give you a quick high, followed by an extremely-low low afterward," said Aaronson.
  • Alcohol: If you are planning an evening of dinner and drinks, remember that you could have the calorie-equivalent of a whole meal in drinks only, before you've eaten anything at all. The average glass of wine has about 100 calories and a 12-ounce beer contains approximately 150 calories. According to Aaronson, it's not uncommon for a mixed drink to have about 300 calories and the decadent frozen drinks like daiquiris to have 500 or more calories each. So limiting the number and types of drinks you have before eating will make a major difference for your waistline.
  • Water: So what is the ideal beverage to quench your thirst? It's the colorless, odorless, and tasteless refresher that makes up over half of our body mass: water.

"Water is the single most important beverage that we can consume," said Aaronson. "A person could drink only water and be just fine, as long as he supplements his diet with food sources that contain calcium and other nutrients that one may find in other beverages such as milk and juice."

In general, 80 percent of a person's liquid calories should come from water, depending on their height, weight and where they live. That means the average adult should drink between 4 and 6 cups of water a day. Another option is flavored water that is fortified with vitamins. But Aaronson said if you're already eating a healthy diet, there's no reason to drink vitamins in the form of water.

The bottom line: "The next time you think about digging into the fridge for a soda, save yourself the money and the calories and reach for the tap instead," Aaronson said.

Used with permission from, © 2007, Write On, Inc.






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