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Liquid Calories Count!

Aug 17, 2007
Think about this. Early man survived by eating one hundred percent of his calories and drinking plain water. No liquid calories! Today, the average American receives more than one fifth of their calories from soft drinks, fruit juices, milk, alcohol, and recently sports drinks, coffee and tea.

Since the 1970s, calorie intake from all of these liquids have increased dramatically, contributing somewhere in the neighborhood of 150-300 extra calories per day. Unless you increase your activity or eat less, that many calories adds up to an extra pound of body fat every 20 days or so. Milk is about the only source of liquid calories that has decreased in the last 30 years.

How has this impacted our health? According to Dr. Barry Popin of the University of North Carolina School of Public Health, studies have shown that people who shift from non calorie drinks to sweetened drinks gain weight, probably because they do not compensate by eating less. Popin says that drinking calories in liquid form does not register with our appetite controls.

To address this growing problem, a panel of leading nutrition experts calling themselves the Beverage Guidance Panel was organized by Dr. Popin. The Panel has issued the following recommendations for beverage intake:

Amount / day Beverage based upon a 2,200 calorie diet

0-8 oz Calorie-Sweetened Beverages like soda or juice
0-8 oz Fruit Juices
0 oz Whole milk sparingly: Sports drinks for non athletes
16 oz Sports drinks for endurance athletes
0-1 drink Alcohol for women
0-2 drinks Alcohol for men
0-32 oz Diet drinks
0-16 oz Low fat, skim, or soy milk
0-28 oz Unsweetened tea/coffee (can replace water)
20-50 oz Water

If you need to lose some weight and think liquid calories might be contributing to your problem, start by reading your labels carefully. Do not forget that total calories listed on product labels are expressed per serving size, and more often than not containers include 2 or even 3 servings. Since liquid calories are so easy to overlook, you may have to write down everything that you drink, making sure that the portion sizes are accurate.

How many soft drinks do you drink? A U.S. Department of Agriculture Survey found that the average American guzzles 53 gallons of carbonated soft drinks in a year. That is 18.6 ounces every day, 365 days a year. Males between the ages of 12-29 years average 28.5 ounces every day!

A 12 ounce can of soda contains 10 teaspoons of sugar at 15 calories per teaspoon. The average American that drinks 18.6 ounces of soda per day is getting around 232 calories. That is the energy equivalent of 2 extra pounds of fat every month, or 24 extra pounds in a year.

According to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, people eating 1,600 calories a day should not take in more than 6 teaspoons of refined sugar a day- from any source! If you eat 2,200 calories a day you should limit sugar to 12 teaspoons. That is 5-8% of your total daily calories. The Food and Drug Administration is slightly more lenient, recommending no more than 10% of your daily intake of calories from sugar.

Besides the extra calories, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) blames soft drinks in the American diet on a number of other health risks. Osteoporosis, tooth decay, heart disease, and kidney stones are all associated with excessive soft drink consumption, not to mention potential problems caused by caffeine and other additives.

To be fair, not everyone agrees. The Sugar Association accurately points out that sugar is pure carbohydrate and low in calories when compared to fat. The FDA confirms that sugar has never been identified as an independent risk factor for heart disease. In terms of dental health, the Sugar Association says the frequency of exposure to carbohydrate foods is more important than the amount. Sticky foods are more of a problem than soft drinks because contact with tooth enamel is prolonged.

So some sugar is OK, especially if you are an athlete in need of extra calories. It improves the taste of food and drink and is not nearly as calorie dense as fat, but common sense should tell you that too much is not a good idea.

The FDA recommendation of limiting your sugar intake to 10% of your total calories is a good one. That is 200 calories if you eat 2,000 calories per day. Eighteen ounces of soft drinks takes you to that limit, if you eat or drink no other sugar from any other source.
About the Author
Dave Elger is a well respected health and fitness authority now working for the Wasatch Altitude Training Center in Mountain Green, Utah. For Wasatch Altitude Training Center.
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