Many of us watch what we eat but not what we drink when on a diet. This is a mistake. The average American, to use an example, gets 20 percent of daily calories from beverages. Choosing the right drink can tweak your metabolism, curb your appetite, and reduce your total calorie count. Let’s look at some beverages to see which ones are spoilers and which are helpers on the path to weight loss.
Every time you drink a bottle of soda, you’re consuming hundreds of empty calories. The Centre for Science in the Public Interest (in the U.S.) says that carbonated soft drinks are the single greatest source of calories in the American diet. Switching to diet soft drinks is an obvious way to cut calories, but it’s unclear whether this switch results in weight loss. In some people, diet soda may increase their sweet tooth.
Replacing carbonated soft drinks with water will cut hundreds of calories per day, and the benefits don’t stop there. Drinking two glasses of water before a meal may encourage the stomach to feel full more quickly, so you don’t eat as much. In addition, new research suggests drinking plenty of water may have a positive effect on your metabolism.
JURY’S OUT (UNDECIDED): FRUIT JUICE
Juice can have as many calories as soda, but it has far more to offer in the way of nutrients. This presents a dilemma – you want the vitamins and antioxidants without all the extra sugar. The safest strategy: Look for 100% fruit juice. Steer clear of juice drinks that have added sweeteners. Look for the percent of real juice, noted on the nutritional label. You can also cut calories by drinking water with a tiny bit of juice added.
HELPER: VEGETABLE JUICE
Vegetable juice is every bit as nutritious as fruit juice with about half the calories. A 12-ounce serving of tomato juice has 80 calories, compared to 160 calories for orange juice. Vegetable juice with pulp is also high in fiber and can help control hunger.
JURY’S OUT: SMOOTHIES
Blending a banana, strawberries, and blueberries into a frothy smoothie can give you a delicious arsenal of disease-fighting vitamins and minerals. The homemade variety is best when you’re counting calories, because you can control the ingredients – skim milk and fresh fruit are all you need. Restaurant smoothies may contain ice cream, honey, or other sweeteners that boost the calorie count sky-high.
JURY’S OUT: LOW-FAT MILK
It’s good for your body to consume calcium-rich foods, but calcium probably won’t help you lose weight, according to new research. Earlier studies suggested calcium may prompt the body to burn more fat, but there’s little evidence to support these claims. Depriving the body of calcium, on the other hand, has been shown to trigger an increase in the production of fat cells. To get the benefits of calcium without consuming extra fat, stick to skim milk, yogurt and cheese.
SPOILER: ENERGY DRINKS
Sports and energy drinks are calorie bombs like soda. They may have more added nutrients, but you can find the same vitamins and minerals in low-calorie foods. People who are serious about losing weight should stay hydrated with water rather than sports drinks.
HELPER: BLACK COFFEE
Need a shot of caffeine? Coffee is a better choice than soda or energy drinks. Black coffee is calorie-free and rich in anti-oxidants. Studies show consuming moderate amounts of coffee (about 3 to 4 cups a day) may improve mood and concentration, and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and several types of cancer.
SPOILER: FANCY COFFEE
Adding heavy cream, flavored syrups, and/or a snowcap of whipped cream can turn that innocent mug of black coffee into a minefield of fat and sugar. Specialty coffees can contain up to 570 calories per cup – possibly more than an entire meal. If you don’t like your coffee black, add a little skim milk and artificial sweetener to keep the calorie count low.
HELPER: GREEN TEA
This is another excellent choice when you’re looking for a little caffeine. Not only is it calorie-free, some research suggests green tea extract may stimulate weight loss through the action of phytochemicals. These are plant-based compounds that may temporarily cause the body to burn more calories and melt fat. The benefit seems to last only a few hours, so it may help to drink green tea at least twice a day.
SPOILER: WINE COOLERS
They may sound light and airy, but wine coolers are heavy on calories. A 12-ounce wine cooler can have 190 calories and 22 grams of carbohydrate. Regular wine is not much better, with 100 calories in a 5-ounce glass. A low-calorie alternative is a wine spritzer: mix a dash of wine with some sparkling water.
A shot of hard liquor has fewer calories than wine or wine coolers, but once you mix in soda or cream, look out……….. An 8-ounce portion of some white rums made with light cream has 715 calories. A less fattening option is to mix rum or vodka with diet soda.
HELPER: LIGHT BEER
O.K., beer is not really going to help you lose weight. But if you’re out with friends and want to share a pitcher, light beer is the way to go. A serving has 100 calories, compared to 150 calories for regular beer.
See you next week.
Dr. Emanuel, based in the Commonwealth of Dominica, has been an educator of medical professionals, in training and the public, for over 20 years.