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More Than Water?
Photo: Jayesh Nair 
Bottled water, soft drinks, fruit drinks, and sports drinks. There are so many choices to quench our thirst. Which one is the best? One out of every five calories consumed by an American today comes from beverages. Americans are drinking two and one-half times more soft drinks and twice as much sweetened fruit drinks than they did 30 years ago.

Portion size has also increased. No longer is eight ounce the normal serving size. Instead, 12-20-ounce cups are standard fare. Many beverages are also laden with sugar. Some beverages contain as much as eight to 15 teaspoons of sugar or even more.

Beverages vary dramatically in caloric value. A can of V-8 provides 70 calories, while a 12-ounce bottle of lemonade provides 220 calories, a 20-ounce bottle of 7-UP provides 250 calories, and a 16-ounce chocolate milk 400 calories.

Green tea has become a popular beverage since its content of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) and other antioxidant flavonoids have been associated with protection against cardiovascular disease and various cancers. However, a cup of green or black tea does contain 50 mg caffeine, which is less than a 20-ounce diet coke at 80 mg, or 12-ounce Starbucks coffee which comes in at 300 mg caffeine.

Beverages Less Satiating

Beverages are also less satiating than solid foods. Hence liquid calories don’t turn off our appetite control mechanism as readily, and we don’t compensate later on by eating less food. The use of artificially sweetened diet drinks do not normally help overweight persons lose weight. People usually compensate for the missing calories in diet drinks and make them up by eating extra calories later on.

Sports drinks are also very popular and typically contain less calories than soft drinks. However, they don’t provide any special benefit to the average athlete.

What about fruit juices? Are these as healthy as the fruit itself? While they contain many vitamins and minerals, they are usually devoid of fiber. However, the major concern is calories. A cup of fruit juice has at least twice the calories as a serving of the fruit. Not more than one glass per day is recommended. Vegetable juices such as V-8 have fewer calories than fruit juice, but they are normally very high in sodium.

Overall recommendation is to drink at least four glasses of water per day, and cut back the use of other beverages as much as possible, especially those rich in sugar and caffeine. The amount of fluids that one needs to drink varies greatly according to your metabolism, body size, the level of exercise, and the ambient temperature.

Many Americans don’t get sufficient fluids. Studies show that even mild dehydration impairs a number of important aspects of cognitive function such as concentration, alertness, and short-term memory. Fluid restriction is also associated with significant increase in headache and tiredness, and impairment in reaction time.

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By Winston J. Craig, R.D. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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