| | You Are What You Drink
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When it comes to gaining weight, perhaps "you are what you eat" doesn't matter as much as "you are what you drink." Slurping soda piles on more pounds than scarfing down the same number of calories in solid food.
According to a study published last year in the International Journal of Obesity, people who drink their excess calories do not compensate for it as well as people who consume the extra calories in food.
Study authors D.P. DiMeglio, PhD, and Richard D. Mattes, PhD, of the department of foods and nutrition at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., proved this in a study of 15 healthy men and women. In the first part of the study, each person consumed an extra 450 calories of either jelly beans or soda each day for four weeks. Four weeks later, those on the jelly bean diet switched to the soda diet for another four weeks, and those on the soda diet switched to the jelly bean diet.
When eating the jelly beans, all 15 people in the study decreased their intake of other calories to compensate for the jelly beans, so their total daily calorie consumption was close to what it would have been normally. As a result, they gained only a small, insignificant amount of weight. But they made no changes in their regular calorie consumption when they drank the soda. In other words, they drank 450 calories' worth of soda each day in addition to what they normally ate. Not surprisingly, this led to a significant weight gain.
"Soda is not necessarily the culprit -- it's [calories] derived from beverages," Mattes tells WebMD. Only recently has it been recognized that Americans have markedly increased their liquid calorie consumption, he and DiMeglio report.
Since 1978, U.S. soda consumption has risen by 40%, paralleling the dramatic rise of obesity in this country. Diet sodas represent only about a quarter of that intake. Over the same time period, juice consumption has increased by 22%, and the increase in sports drinks, such as Gatorade and Powerade, averaged more than 10% per year throughout the 1990s. Even the consumption of "designer" coffees and prepared teas has risen dramatically over the last 10 years. "Studies have been done looking at calorie compensation with milk and coffee, and it's poor for all of them," says Mattes.
Clear liquids such as soda, apple juice, and sugary tea do not seem to elicit the signals the body normally puts out to tell us when we're full, Mattes says. That means people who drink a can of non-diet soda or a bottle of iced tea won't compensate for those extra calories by eating less food, and, eventually, they will gain weight.
The increase in beverage consumption is "an index of how our diet is changing," Mattes says. "If we're going to drink large amounts of [high-calorie] beverages, we have to adjust our diet [by eating less]. However, substituting water, diet soda, or unsweetened coffee or tea might be the best approach." In the final analysis, he says, "calories do still count.