By Maureen Williams, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (May 28, 2009)—Many people get a substantial percentage of their daily calories from beverages, often without realizing it. Many weight-loss plans recommend drinking fewer sugar-sweetened beverages, but does this really contribute to weight loss? A new study finds that it does.
Sidestepping sugar supports weight loss
The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, looked at the eating and drinking habits of 810 people with pre-hypertension or mild hypertension (120 to 159 mm Hg/80 to 95 mmHg). They received information and counseling about healthy lifestyle and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH diet, put forth by the US National Institutes of Health, and were followed for 18 months.
At the beginning of the study, beverages provided an average of 19% of total daily calories, and sugar-sweetened drinks were the leading source of beverage calories. Weight loss over the course of the study was more affected by reducing beverage calories than solid food calories: a 100 calorie-per-day decrease in liquid calories was associated with a 0.3 kg (0.66 pounds) drop in weight while the same reduction in food calories was associated with 0.09 kg (0.12 pounds) of weight loss over six months. Only reducing sugar-sweetened beverages, not other caloric beverages, was found to be related to weight loss.
Choose drinks carefully for the greatest effect
Sugar-sweetened drinks are an increasing concern to scientists and health professionals observing the rising trends in overweight, obesity, and type 2 diabetes in Western societies. One reason these drinks are so problematic is that, despite their calorie density, they don’t appear to reduce appetite or trigger a sense of fullness the way solid foods do. Because they tend to be very high in fructose, they can trigger changes in metabolism that lead to more weight gain than foods made with other simple sugars.
The findings from this study suggest that reducing calories from sugar-sweetened drinks can have more than five times the impact of reducing calories from solid foods. Removing sugary drinks from the diet should be a top priority for programs designed to help people lose weight, although overall calorie reduction is essential for people who need to lose a substantial amount of weight. “Our study supports policy recommendations and public health efforts to reduce intakes of liquid calories, particularly from sugar-sweetened beverages, in the general population,” the study’s authors said in their conclusion.
Getting the sugar out of your drinks
• Drink water when you are thirsty—it has no calories, and is ideally suited for keeping your body properly hydrated.
• If you drink other beverages, choose ones that are not sugar-sweetened, like 100% fruit juice and milk. Their calories are less likely to contribute to overweight and obesity. Diluting fruit juices by up to 50% with water can also decrease calorie intake without substantially changing the taste of the beverage.
• Researchers have found that artificially sweetened diet drinks are not associated with weight loss, and might even contribute to weight gain, so use them sparingly.
(Am J Clin Nutr 2009;89:1299–306)
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice on Cortes Island in British Columbia, Canada, and has done extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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