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You Are What You Drink!

By Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D.

Beverages with calories are dangerous. 

Humans evolved drinking only water.  Today, Americans get more than 20 percent of their calories from beverages. 

We drink juice, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and milk.  We drink Frappucinos, milk shakes, smoothies, and coffee with cream and sugar.  We drink vitamin-fortified juice drinks, sugared iced teas, beer, wine, and liquor. 

Some 300,000 fast-food restaurants, 3 million soft-drink vending machines, and 20,000 coffee shops, kiosks, and carts offer to quench our thirst wherever we go.  Bottomless refills of soft drinks at fast-food restaurants and convenience stores entice us—and a billion dollars a year in advertising—to drink our calories.

Barry Popkin, who directs an obesity program at the University of North Carolina, believes that because we evolved drinking only water and getting all of our calories from food, liquid foods don’t “register” on our brain’s appetite center the way solid foods do.

If early humans were no longer hungry after drinking water, they wouldn’t consume enough food.  So we evolved separate mechanisms to satisfy thirst and hunger.  And those mechanisms haunt us in today’s world of calorie-laden Double Big Gulps at the convenience store and mega-calorie dense White Chocolate Mochas at Starbucks.

Short term studies show that when you consume calories from solid food, your brain ratchets down your appetite for more food and calories.  But when you consume calories from liquids, your appetite isn’t as satisfied…so you eat more.

That research is reinforced by longer-term studies that find greater weight gain in soft-drink consumers.  (As for diet soda, some of their artificial sweeteners—acesulfame potassium, aspartame, and saccharin—may not be safe.) 

So the answer to “What would you like to drink?” is a no-brainer.

When you’re offered a soda, smoothie, or sugary coffee drink; think water instead.  If tap water isn’t available, go for bottled.  (The environmental impact of all plastic bottles is dreadful, but at least water is better for you than soda.)

And when you have coffee or tea; take it plain or with just milk and/or a teaspoon of sugar.  Or flavor a glass of water with the juice of a whole lemon and a packet or two of Splenda.

At restaurants, don’t feel compelled to buy a beverage; ask for a glass of water.

We could also use some help from city governments, park districts, and school systems to make it just as convenient to drink (free) water as soda or coffee.  Unfortunately, water fountains seem to be disappearing as fast as pay phones.  And many of those that remain are broken.

Health officials in cities like Los Angeles, Tuscon, Dallas, Atlanta, and Miami shouldn’t be surprised that it’s frequently hot outside.  And people in Seattle, Minneapolis, New York, and Boston get thirsty, too.  Cities should be putting water fountains at all major street corners, parks, and wherever else people gather.  And why not require fast-food restaurants to provide free water and cups?

Those are things that we all should be able to drink to.

By Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D.

Reprinted with permission from The Nutrition Action Health Letter, Center for Science in the Public Interest.