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What Shall We Drink?
By Dr. Winston Craig

            The average American consumes 21 percent of their calories from beverages. This represents an increase of 150 to 300 calories more than was consumed 30 years ago. Most of this increase comes from sweetened fruit drinks and soft drinks. In addition, the portion size of beverages has also increased.

            An overuse of beverages could be a factor in the increased incidence of obesity in America. Beverages are less satiating than solid foods. Hence liquid calories don’t turn off the appetite control mechanism as readily, and we don’t compensate later on, by eating less food.

Calories and Caffeine Galore

            Beverages vary dramatically in caloric value and nutritional profile. A can of V-8 provides 70 calories, a cup of regular soymilk 90-100 calories, a cup of orange juice 110 calories, a cup of low-fat milk 120 calories, and a cup of grape juice 150 calories. Commonly consumed beverages that come in greater serving sizes typically provide 2 to 4 times more calories. For example, a 12 oz bottle of Snapple lemonade provides 220 calories, a 20 oz bottle of 7-UP provides 250 calories, while a 20 oz fruit smoothie provides about 400 calories. Compare this with a medium Baskin-Robbins vanilla shake, which tops out at 980 calories.

               Too many beverages are loaded with sugar, some of which contain 8 to 15 teaspoons of sugar or even more. Herbal teas generally provide neither calories nor caffeine. In contrast, black tea has 50 mg caffeine/cup, while a 20 oz diet coke has 80 mg caffeine. Compare this with 12 oz Starbucks coffee with 300 mg caffeine, and a 20 oz Starbucks coffee with 500 mg caffeine.

            Switching from a non-caloric beverage to one containing a caloric sweetener can produce a gain in body weight. However, artificially sweetened diet drinks (diet sodas) do not necessarily help with weight loss for overweight persons. Such people often compensate for the missing calories and make up by eating extra calories later on. In spite of the advertising campaigns, there is no convincing evidence that drinking milk will help you lose weight.

            While fruit juices contain many vitamins and minerals, the juices are usually devoid of fiber and have about twice the concentration of calories than a serving of fruit. While vegetable juices such as V-8 have fewer calories than fruit juices, they are normally very high in sodium. Sports drinks are very popular today and typically contain fewer calories than soft drinks. However, they don’t provide any real advantage to the average athlete.

 Water is Best

The overall recommendation is to drink 4-8 glasses of water per day, and cut back the use of other beverages as much as possible. The amount of fluids that one needs to drink varies greatly according to the individual’s metabolism and body size. Additional water is also required during the hot days of summer and when we engage in strenuous physical activity. It is better to drink water between meals, rather than with the meals, as the latter will retard digestion, especially if the water is icy cold.

Typically, Americans don't drink enough water. Their average intake runs about 3 to 4 cups of water per day. Not drinking sufficient water can make you feel sluggish, cause dry skin, bad breath and constipation, and increase the risk of heat exhaustion and kidney infections. Keeping well hydrated especially when fighting a cold or the flu is also important. Parents should especially watch the fluid intake of small children, since they are at greatest risk of dehydration due to their relatively greater surface area.

            Many people underestimate the amount of water they lose during physical activities, and experience fatigue if the water loss is not appropriately replaced. Thirst is not a reliable guide. Experiments at Harvard University show that we need about 30% more water than what our thirst tells us, and fatigue during exercise can be substantially delayed when we stay properly hydrated.

            A variety of beverages are available for our enjoyment. Many of them contain too much sugar and calories. Others are high in caffeine. Fruit juices, soy and rice beverages, can provide good nutritional value at a meal. For quenching the thirst between meals, water has many advantages. Pure water is a precious commodity in today’s world.

By Winston J. Craig, PhD
Andrews University


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