By: Liz Plosser
Glug, glug, glug. That's the sound of pounds being poured on. Studies show that we're chugging 411 liquid calories daily, almost 130 more than we consumed in 1990, and all those sips are adding up.
"We don't compensate for what we drink by cutting back on food," says Barry Popkin, PhD, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "We still eat the same amount." So slurp a whipped coffee drink at breakfast, a few cans of soda in the afternoon, and a couple of cocktails with dinner and you've just doubled your calorie intake -- and your chances of weight gain -- without realizing it. "Drinks don't require as much effort to consume, so it's easy to overdo them," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
You can still enjoy your faves and not gain an ounce: Just follow our sip-smarter guide.
Hit the Bottle
A water bottle, that is. The old eight-cups-a-day rule no longer has merit, researchers say, because we get plenty of H2O from other sources, including fruits, vegetables, coffee, and tea. But sipping at least a few glasses of water daily can deliver some serious benefits, including weight loss. "Thirst can masquerade as hunger, so a lot of times we eat when really our bodies just need water," says Keri Glassman, RD, author of The O2 Diet. To tell the difference, drink a glass of water and wait 15 minutes. If your stomach is still grumbling, have a snack. If not, you were probably dehydrated.
The average American downs almost 48 gallons of soft drinks a year, according to Beverage Digest, a publication that tracks industry trends. This makes soda the largest single source of calories in our diet, says the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and such sugary beverages increase our risk for diabetes and heart disease. Slowly, though, we're starting to cut back. Thirty-four percent of soda sippers in a survey by Mintel, a market research firm, say they're drinking more water and less of the carbonated stuff to stay healthy and prevent weight gain. More than half the respondents worry about the artificial sweeteners in diet soda. Although studies are inconclusive, some experts believe that diet beverages also cause people to pack on pounds, in part because the sugary taste triggers cravings for the real thing. Those findings may help explain why we now guzzle one-third less regular soda and 10 percent less diet than we used to, according to Mintel.
Sip Tip: Need your daily soda fix? Limit yourself to one or two cans a day and drink more good-for-you beverages, like low-fat milk and plain water.
A Happier Hour
We're a nation that loves to celebrate with a drink; we consume more than 500 million gallons of wine, beer, and spirits a year. Research shows that we would imbibe even more if liquor contained functional ingredients, such as antioxidants, enzymes, and vitamins. "There's a growing number of people who want to sip a cocktail and get health benefits at the same time," Taub-Dix says. We're also watching our waistlines and choosing skinnier drinks. Seven of the 10 top-selling domestic beers are light beers. Here's a reason to toast: Women who drink one to two servings of wine, beer, or liquor a day tend to gain less weight over time than teetotalers, according to researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Some studies indicate that regularly drinking a small amount of alcohol may reduce our appetite.
Sip Tip: Moderation is key. While too much alcohol can hurt your health, experts say that a little bit daily may boost it. Stick to no more than two 5-ounce glasses of wine, 12-ounce bottles of beer, or 1-1/2-ounce glasses of liquor a day.
OJ accounts for more than half of all fruit-juice sales in the United States, and no wonder: We each consume more than four gallons of it a year. "A cup a day is fine, especially if you have trouble getting your daily servings of fruits and veggies otherwise," Taub-Dix says. "But eating a piece of fruit is the better choice, since it packs more fiber into fewer calories." A medium orange has about 60 calories, 12 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of filling fiber; an 8-ounce glass of juice has 112 calories, almost twice as much sugar as the fruit, and only half a gram of fiber.
Sip Tip: Be sure to pick a carton labeled "100 percent juice." "There are plenty of impostors out there containing a lot of added sugar. For a healthier fix and to slash the calories, mix juice with seltzer or club soda," Taub-Dix says.
Good Sports Drinks
Five years ago a straight-up sports drink, like Gatorade or Powerade, was pretty much the only option for quenching your post-workout thirst. Now enhanced waters, like Vitaminwater Zero, and protein drinks, such as Muscle Milk, are filling the gap. "This category used to cater mainly to athletes, who needed to rehydrate after hard workouts," says Sarah Theodore, global drinks analyst at Mintel. "But sports drinks have evolved to meet the needs of all sorts of exercisers, from those looking to lose weight to people who want to build muscle."
Sip Tip: "If you're hitting the gym for less than an hour, low-cal sports drinks or flavored waters are great," says FITNESS advisory board member Leslie Bonci, RD, author of Sport Nutrition for Coaches. "The sweet taste can heighten your desire to drink, helping you stay hydrated." If your sweat sessions last an hour or more, stick to the full-calorie varieties. Long workouts increase your body's production of the stress hormone cortisol, which can weaken the immune system, says David C. Nieman, PhD, a researcher who studies exercise at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. Sipping a sports drink provides just enough fuel to decrease the stress on your system, reducing cortisol levels.
Today there are hundreds of choices for those in need of a quick pick-me-up, including energy shots (small low-calorie or calorie-free drinks promising supersized caffeine levels), energy-drink mixes, and fortified water jacked up on vitamins. Many energy drinks contain megadoses of caffeine (145 milligrams or more for every 8 ounces), so experts caution against making them a daily habit. "Too much caffeine can cause anxiety and insomnia," says Paul Arciero, PhD, an associate professor at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. While fortified water may seem like an easy way to get the nutrients you need, it's not the best answer. "Water with vitamins is no substitute for eating whole foods, which have a variety of compounds and antioxidants to help your body stay healthy," says Keri Gans, RD, a nutritionist in New York City. Plus, one bottle can have eight teaspoons or more of added sugar.
Sip Tip: Arciero recommends consuming less than 600 milligrams of caffeine daily. If you take a multivitamin, limit yourself to one bottle of fortified water.
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