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The Sipping Point: Calorie-Packed Drinks and Your Weight

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Is your coffee, cocktail, or smoothie packing on unwanted pounds? Calorie counts for common beverages.

Drinking and Dieting

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."

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