Extension connection: Watch those high-calorie drinks

By Cheryl Vasse / Guest Columnist

One of my weekend rituals is to stop by a local coffee house and enjoy a flavored latte.

This may not seem significant but about five years ago, I weaned myself off of sodas, sugar-sweetened beverages and sweet tea to limit my liquid calorie intake. I am physically active and watch my calories but as I age I find it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight.

We have so many choices today when it comes to beverages and we may not think how it affects our calorie intake. Dr. Robert Keith, Alabama Cooperative Extension System Nutrition and Health Specialist and Auburn University Professor of Nutrition and Food Science, writes about how important it is to be aware of our beverage intake:

“Those who point the accusing fingers at fat burgers and sweets as the culprits behind America’s exploding obesity rates, are overlooking one of the biggest factors of all – beverages. This includes everything from sodas to rich, calorie-laden mochas.

Some Americans undoubtedly would be shocked at just how much beverages, even comparatively healthy fruit juices, contribute to bulging waistlines. Recently, the New York Times’ Jane Brody reported that 21 percent of calories consumed by Americans beyond age 2 are derived from beverages.

Many food vendors aren’t making the temptation any easier, in many cases offering mammoth serving sizes – as large as 32 ounces in some cases – and free refills, Brody writes.

Therein lies part of the problem, nutritionists stress.

In a sense, you are what you eat – and drink.

And while these beverages often hit the spot in terms of quenching thirst, many are lacking, if not worthless, in nutritional value. In fact, Brody notes a steep increase in the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks in recent decades at the expense of healthier fare, such as milk, which offers clear nutritional benefits.

If this isn’t a big enough problem, add to this the growing American passion for smoothies and sweetened coffee drinks. For example, Brody observes that there are 240 calories in a 16-ounce Starbucks Coffee mocha without the whipped cream.

It’s not just the high calories, though. Add to the list the weak satiety properties associated with many of these products. In other words, while these drinks contribute a lot to your daily caloric intake, they do little to fill you up.

Even after consuming up to 500 calories from many of these drinks, people still want to eat as they have before.

The consequences for millions of Americans are steady weight gain and, in all too many cases, chronic obesity.

Granted, not all high-calorie beverages are devoid of nutritional value.

Some actually can play a role in a balanced diet, particularly among healthy Americans who face the daily challenge of incorporating the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables into their diets.

Fruit and vegetable juices are a viable option for slender, physically fit Americans.

But consumers who drink more than a couple a day are adding lots of extra calories – the reason why nutritionists urge overweight Americans to limit their intake of these products.

Never lose sight of the fact that the real bad boys remain the high-calorie sodas and sugar-sweetened, fruit-flavored drinks – the ones that remain so popular among millions of Americans.

Consuming several of these a day may add up to 500 or 600 calories a day, even though most people need only a total calorie intake of between 1,800 and 2,400 calories a day.”