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Ask a woman if she snacked too much today and she's likely to say yes. But drank too much? Nah, she probably won't think so. And therein lies the problem: "People overdrink just like they overeat," says Barbara Rolls, PhD, a professor of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State University and author of The Volumetrics Eating Plan. "We aren't as mindful of what we're drinking, or we think beverage calories don't really count." Fact is, our calorie intake from sweetened beverages has increased 135 percent over the past 30 years, and our wine consumption is at an all-time high: more than three gallons per person per year. A study at the University of Maryland found that women between the ages of 20 and 39 drink an average of 381 calories a day, on top of the 1,649 they're already eating; another study found that drinks make up more than half of the extra calories we consume each day. Clearly, we can't stop sipping, but we can sip smarter. Here's how.
The Slurp Effect
The sneaky thing about beverages: "We don't find them as filling as food because there's no texture or mouth feel, and we tend to consume them so fast they don't register," says Brian Wansink, PhD, a FITNESS advisory board member and director of Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab. Hence, the reason you can down a 20-ounce smoothie at the gym and still be hungry for dinner soon after.
When we drink also makes a difference. A few studies have found that sipping a caloric beverage an hour before a meal slightly reduces the amount of food we subsequently eat. However, we're most likely to have calorie-laden drinks at mealtime, when the focus is on what we're eating, not what's in our glass. "We consume most of our beverages with meals," says Rolls. "My studies show that whether we drink soda, juice, or milk, we don't eat less to compensate for the liquid calories."
So how to stay slim without giving up your daily fix? Below, the experts spill some secrets.
Drink, don't sip. Sounds counterintuitive, we know, but how satisfied you feel after you drink a caloric beverage depends partly on how quickly you consume it, says G. Harvey Anderson, PhD, a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto. Slowly sipping a bottle of sweetened iced tea over the course of an hour isn't going to make you feel full or suppress your appetite. If you're splurging on the sugary stuff, try to finish it within 10 minutes or so to stimulate normal psychological signals of satiety.
Load your glass with ice. "Your body has to work to heat up cold beverages in order to digest them, so you'll burn one calorie for every icy-cold ounce you drink," Wansink explains. This means that if you guzzle eight 8-ounce glasses of ice water a day, you'll burn an extra 64 calories, just like that.
Practice the 10-20 technique. People underestimate the number of calories in a beverage by around 30 percent, says Wansink. So he developed this guideline: "Thin drinks" (soft drinks, juice, punch, whole milk) have about 10 calories per ounce; "thick drinks" (smoothies, meal-replacement shakes, malts) have about 20 calories per ounce. You can look up the calorie counts for your favorite drinks, from cocktails to cappuccinos.
Drink smaller. Just like dishes, drinking glasses are supersized these days, which makes it easy to pour yourself way too much. To keep tabs on how many calories you're consuming, Elisabetta Politi, RD, nutrition manager for the Duke University Diet and Fitness Center, suggests buying glasses that hold no more than 8 ounces.
Write it down. If you put on paper everything you drink each day, it will force you to become more aware of how much you're consuming. "People always underestimate calories, particularly with beverages," says Politi. Just say no. Studies show that drinking alcohol before having a meal can lead you to eat more than you would otherwise, explains Rolls. "Alcohol lowers inhibitions and stimulates the appetite," she says. If you feel like indulging, have a drink with your food.
Have a cow. Milk can be a great part of a healthy diet, says Anderson. "It's got a good balance of nutrients." Plus, it's a healthier choice than sugary soda.
Take a moderate approach. Can't give up soda completely? No worries. You don't have to deprive yourself. Just cut back by half, from four colas to two, for example, and you'll save 272 calories. Remember, the goal is everything in moderation.
Make a juice cocktail. Mix 4 ounces of juice with 4 ounces of water or club soda. You'll get the sweet taste you crave for half the calories.
Choose wisely. Thick drinks, such as low-sodium V-8, protein shakes, or smoothies, are good choices when you're feeling hungry. Clear soups, made from chicken or vegetable broth, although they're not technically beverages, are also a smart way to satisfy a growling stomach without adding a lot of extra calories to your meal.
Don't count on water to fill you up. Despite what you may have heard, drinking water before or during a meal won't make you feel full, say experts. Water satisfies only thirst, not hunger.
O Water This line of fruit-infused water comes in flavors like peach, strawberry, and mango and has zero calories and no artificial flavors. Refreshing, with just a hint of fruitiness.
Crystal Light These new powdered drinks, called "immunity," "energy," and "hydration," come in convenient travel-size packets and have only 5 calories per serving; flavors include wild strawberry and berry pomegranate. All three enhanced drinks contain vitamins, and "hydration" has electrolytes that help you replace fluids after a workout.
Tropicana Fruit Squeeze Water with a squirt of real fruit juice, these drinks contain just 20 calories per serving. Our favorite flavor: Tropical Tangerine.
You've probably heard the rumor that the artificial sweeteners in diet soda cause sugar cravings that can lead to weight gain. Wrong, experts say -- diet soda will not make you fat. What does? Consuming too many calories. One study did find that the risk of being overweight or obese increased by 37 percent for each diet soda consumed daily. But a Danish study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed no difference in appetite between overweight people who downed diet sodas and those who guzzled sugary ones. "Artificial sweeteners can absolutely help people lose weight, as long as they consume them as part of a reduced-calorie diet," says Anderson. "The problem is, people drink diet sodas and then think they've 'saved' calories, so they go ahead and overeat. It has nothing to do with the sweetener." So enjoy that diet whatever, just don't overdo it on the triple-fudge treats.
Chai tea latte with skim milk: 16 ounces
Chocolate milk: 16 ounces
Cran-apple juice: 1 cup
Sports drink: 32 ounces
Fruit smoothie: 16 ounces
Mocha latte with whole milk: 16 ounces
Red wine: 4 ounces
Beer: 12 ounces
Martini: 4 ounces
Sweetened iced tea: 16 ounces
Daiquiri: 8 ounces
Cola: 12 ounces
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, May 2007.