Caloric balance is essential for BodyWhealth. Marketing budgets, emotional hunger and pleasure all drive calorie consumption. One of the places calories creep into our diets is in our drinks. Here’s an easy way to reduce the burden.
Over the last three decades, America’s calorie intake from sweetened drinks has gone up over 30%. The average person consumes around 200 calories per day from sodas, sweetened tea and coffee, fruit drinks, sport drinks and “low-calorie” drinks. Add 100 calories per day from alcohol, and you get to an average consumption per adult of 300 calories per day. That’s more than 10% of my personal BodyWHealth goal of around 2000 calories. If I can control the intake of these sweetened drinks, that’s a big step towards my daily goal.
Many nutrition scientists talk about “empty calories”. This refers to the ingestion of calories in a food or beverage of little additional nutritional value. If you eat a juicy steak, it is loaded in calories, but at least you’re getting some protein too. If you drink a soda, all you’re getting are calories, with no additional nutritional value. Many of the calorie-loaded drinks are “empty”, and many are marketed as “healthy”.
Here are a few ideas to limit your consumption of these empty calorie-loaded drinks:
- Track your calorie intake. Golden Rule #2 of BodyWhealth. If you’re not actively tracking this (and until you are experienced in this, I mean writing it down in a log), you will not be mindful of your intake and excess can easily creep in to your diet. I recommend the MyFitnesPal app for tracking calories and exercise.
- Take note of the number of calories you’re consuming every week from sweetened drinks. If you want a graphic, eye-opening shock, then add up the number of extra calories you’re drinking and convert it into the table sugar equivalent (1 teaspoon is 15 calories). Then measure out the equivalent quantity of sugar into a breakfast bowl to visualize the excess. You will be amazed!
- Reduce your sweetened drink intake.
- If you drink a couple of cups of coffee every day, with a couple of teaspoons of sugar in each, you soon consume an extra 60 to 80 calories. You have to exercise for 10 to 15 minutes per day just to work this excess off!
- Walking off a soda will take you 20 to 30 minutes!
- Beware of sports drinks. I see kids drinking them for refreshment because parents see them as “healthy”. They are loaded with sugar – good for heavy exercise, but bad for BodyWHealth.
- Whole milk contains double the calories of non-fat milk.
- Alcohol is loaded with sugar! A single beer will require 25 minutes to walk off. A glass of red wine every day is good for you (even recommended) but remember that it contains about 125 calories, so you will have to make space for this somewhere else in your diet. Hard liquor has the highest calorie concentration at about 100 calories per single shot in the USA.
- Drink water!!! Start the day with a glass and end the day with a glass. Drink a glass before every meal. Mostly, we drink because we’re thirsty, so this will help avoid the other empty calories that tempt you. If you drink water before a meal, it also distends your stomach a little so that the stretch receptors are triggered earlier, and you’ll eat less. (Note: the MyFitnessPal app helps you track your water intake too.)
- A note on artificial sweeteners. Many physicians are supportive of sweeteners that replace raw sugar in drinks. Recent evidence suggests that they may also be associated with a higher prevalence of diabetes, suggesting that they affect the pancreas and insulin metabolism is a similar manner to raw sugar. My strong preference is that you wean yourself of your dependence on sweet taste.
As long as you balance your calories, you can enjoy sweetened drinks. But each additional sugar load requires that you exercise a little more to maintain that balance. With busy lives, the amount of time most of us have for exercise is limited. It makes a lot of sense to reduce the sugar we drink. This is the path to BodyWHealth.