- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Thinking of grabbing a refreshing, silky-smooth milkshake? Think again. New research at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health shows high-calorie drinks are worse for the waistline than high-calorie foods. The body and brain don’t register drinks as filling, so we are more inclined to overindulge.

In other words, while a milkshake, for example, contains 750 to 1,000 calories - roughly half of a person’s daily calorie requirement - the body and mind don’t recognize it as such. Rather, the milkshake - and, even more so, sugar-sweetened soda - is registered as quenching thirst, not satisfying hunger.

“It probably has to do with the fact that you’re not chewing it,” says Dr. Liwei Chen, lead author of the caloric-drink research, which was published in this month’s issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“It doesn’t produce enough of a signal to the brain,” Dr. Chen adds.

Such a signal would tell the brain to tell the rest of the body that it’s time to stop eating and that enough calories have been ingested.

Another problem with high-calorie drinks - particularly sodas - is that they provide “empty calories.” (A typical soda, such as a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola, contains 140 calories.)

“They lack essential nutrients,” says Dr. Benjamin Caballero, senior author of the study and a professor with the Bloomberg School’s Department of International Health.

In other words, you are wasting your caloric allotment on drinks that provide no nutritional value. So, at the end of the day, when you’ve consumed your average 2,000 calories, you might be short on everything from iron to calcium.

“We’re often called an overfed but undernourished nation,” says Kathleen M. Zelman, director for nutrition at WebMD. “So, when you choose your beverages, choose ones that help you meet your nutritional needs.”

Sugar-sweetened sodas in particular and fast food in general do not meet those needs. For example, a hamburger and fries - roughly 1,500 calories, depending on the size - provide about 300 milligrams of calcium. The daily requirement of calcium, though, is 1,000 milligrams, Dr. Caballero says.

Milk is more difficult to categorize. It contains high levels of calcium and vitamin D - both essential nutrients, particularly for a growing body. However, dairy for the adult population is controversial because of its high fat and cholesterol content, Dr. Chen says.

“We recommend skim milk for adults,” she says.

Fruit juice - the 100-percent-fruit kind - also contains nutrients. Even so, Dr. Caballero and Dr. Chen say to limit juice intake because of the high calorie and sugar content.

“The best thing to do is drink water and eat whole fruit. That way, you get the essential nutrients, and you get fiber,” Dr. Chen says.

Coffee and tea? Sure. Just don’t include sugar.

Alcoholic drinks? In moderation. They often pack more calories than you might think, Ms. Zelman says.

“A lot of summer cocktails have cream or fruit syrup,” she says. “They can have up to 800 calories.”

How about diet sodas? They’re better than sugar-sweetened sodas, Dr. Chen says, but they’re still problematic because they condition the body to crave sweets. So, paradoxically, a zero-calorie drink might prompt you to want more of the “real stuff.”

As obesity and diabetes epidemics are going into high gear - Dr. Caballero says about 75 percent of the U.S. population will be overweight or obese by 2015 - doctors and other public health officials are looking for fast-acting, easily implementable solutions.

Dr. Caballero and Dr. Chen think they have found one: Dump the soda, stick with water.

“This is not a costly solution,” he says. “Cut down on sodas, and we have a fighting chance against the obesity and diabetes epidemics.”

Almost a quarter of all the calories we ingest are from sodas. The average American consumes 430 12-ounce cans of soda a year; if all those sodas are sugar-sweetened, you’re looking at a total of 60,200 calories. Dr. Caballero says no more than 10 percent of calories should be from soda.

In the end, cutting back on sugary sodas can make a big difference- 15 pounds in some cases.

“It might not sound like a lot. But 3,500 calories equals one pound of fat,” Ms. Zelman says. “So, if you cut 150 calories a day for 23 days, you lose one pound.”

Losing one pound every 23 days would translate into about 15 pounds in a year.

So, you see, you are what you drink.

www.healthcastle.com/drinks_hidden_calories.shtml

www.webmd.com/ community/healthy-weight-8/calorie-chart

www.mayoclinic.com/health/ holiday-drinks/NU00644

www.health.yahoo.com/ experts/eatthis/5027/ americas-unhealthiest-drinks-exposed

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