WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Eat, rather than drink, your holiday treats this season if you want to avoid gaining weight, suggests new research from Purdue University's foods and nutrition department.
The findings indicate that a glass of wine may contribute more to your waistline than a slice of pumpkin pie with the same number of calories. "Fluid calories don't give people as strong a feeling of fullness, so they tend to eat more," says Richard Mattes, professor of foods and nutrition.
"Beverages are not solely to blame, but accumulating evidence indicates that caloric drinks are contributing to excess calorie consumption in this country, and thus a national trend toward being overweight," Mattes says.
He has been concerned about beverage consumption since a study he conducted in 1996 showed that persons who drank alcohol or soda pop did not compensate for those extra calories by consuming less of other foods.
Preliminary findings from a recently completed study further support the belly-busting propensity of beverages. The complete findings will be presented next spring at the national Experimental Biology Meeting.
In the latest study by graduate student Doreen Dimeglio and Mattes, a group of subjects consumed a fixed amount of calories of a sugar-sweetened beverage each day for one month. Daily eating patterns and body weight were recorded both before and during the experiment.
After a month off, the same subjects consumed the same number of calories per day of a solid food made largely of sugar. Again, eating habits and weight were monitored.
"When the solid food was consumed, the subjects ate less of other foods, offsetting the calories contributed by the test food," Mattes says. "On the other hand, when they drank the beverage, no decrease of calorie consumption occurred. As a result, their total energy intake and body weight increased."
Mattes suspects it's the nature of liquids that causes the problem, but the actual mechanics are not known.
But it is known that Americans are drinking more caloric beverages ever before. In the past 30 years, soda consumption in the United States has almost tripled, according to the National Soft Drink Association. Four of the top 10 grocery products sold nationally are beverages: soft drinks, juices, milk and beer. And a national research survey reports that alcohol is the third highest single source of dietary energy in this country, accounting for more than 5 percent of the total.
While beverage consumption has been increasing, so have American waistlines. "Nationally, the majority of people are overweight, and one-third are obese," Mattes says. "In the past 10 years, the proportion of people classified as being overweight has increased 8 percent. It runs counter to prevailing views, but fat content is not the problem here."
Mattes notes that fat intake has remained relatively constant over the years, while total calorie consumption has increased. "Total daily energy intake has increased approximately 200 calories from nearly 20 years ago," he says.
Mattes also says a lack of exercise may play a part in obesity, but likewise, that is not totally to blame. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that while activity levels are low in the population, they have been that way for the past decade.
He says the marked increase in beverage consumption is a trend that only recently has been recognized, and it coincides with the growth in our girth.
Mattes isn't alone in concern over fluid calorie consumption. In a recent report titled "Liquid Candy," the Center for Science in the Public Interest contended that soft drinks harm Americans' health.
"Unless you watch your total energy consumption, the calories from beverages will likely add to your holiday indulgences at the table," Mattes says. The result will be greater calorie intake and a higher number when you step on the bathroom scales.
For those who want to have their cake -- and do some drinking, too -- Mattes suggests unsweetened coffee and tea or diet drinks. Only 24 percent of all sodas sold are sweetened with artificial sweeteners. "By drinking a low-calorie beverage, you can enjoy the taste and sensation without adding extra calories," he says.
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