Weight Loss: Watch What You Drink on a Diet (cont.)

"Some of the calories consumed in soda may be taken out of the diet elsewhere," says Katz, but he doesn't think that's necessarily a good thing. "Sodas provide no nutrient value, while the foods eliminated may. Further, the calories we drink are likely to be added to, rather than replaced by the calories we eat."

A study published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2000 bears this out. Fifteen healthy men and women consumed an extra 450 calories, in the form of either jellybeans or soda, every day for four weeks. After four weeks, the soda drinkers switched to jelly beans and vice versa.

When eating the jellybeans, all 15 people in the study reduced the number of calories they took in from other sources to compensate; at the end of the study, they had gained only a small amount of weight. Those drinking the soda, however, made no such changes in the calories they consumed. No surprise here: The soda drinkers gained a lot of weight!

The take-away message? Liquid calories don't tend to fill you up and satisfy your hunger as well as those from solid foods. Soft drinks quench your thirst -- and add calories -- but do little to fill your belly.

This holds true for children as well as adults.

In a study published in the June issue of The Journal of Pediatrics, Cornell University researchers followed 30 children over two months. According to David Levitsky, professor of nutritional sciences and psychology at Cornell, children who drank more than 12 ounces of sweetened drinks (soda, fruit punch, bottled tea, or drinks made from fruit-flavored powders) per day gained significantly more weight than youngsters who drank less than 6 ounces a day. The reason? They didn't reduce the amount of food they ate to make up for the extra calories in the drinks.

The researchers also found that the more sweetened beverages the youngsters consumed, the less milk they drank. So not only were they taking in more calories, they were getting less calcium and zinc than is recommended.

Soda isn't the only beverage to beware. Tea and coffee by themselves have no calories (though the effects of caffeine are a concern for some), but the add-ons can turn your cup of Joe into a real calorie-fest. For example, a large Starbucks Mocha Coconut Frappuccino with whipped cream adds a whopping 710 calories and 26 grams of fat. Even a tablespoon or two of cream in your morning coffee, along with a packet of sugar, adds up.

"A large Starbucks Mocha Coconut Frappuccino with whipped cream adds a whopping 710 calories and
26 grams of fat"

And what about alcoholic drinks? It's best to proceed with caution. The average calorie count of a glass of wine or bottle of beer is 100-150 calories, and how often do we stop at one? Even worse, alcoholic beverages can lower your inhibitions and make you more likely to overeat -- especially those salty snacks that are often served with drinks.

Diet sodas are virtually calorie free, yet they contain a list of non-nutritious ingredients including artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are approved by the FDA, but moderation is the best approach. It's best to limit your intake of diet sodas to a few servings a day.