Why America is Overweight, Part III: Liquid Calories


Which came first, the cup holder or the cup? America’s consumption of liquids has become ubiquitous. Seldom do we see anyone anymore walking around without carrying some kind of drink. Sometimes it’s water, but often it’s a fancy coffee drink, soda, diet or regular, energy drink, Gatorade, or the ever popular Mountain Dew.

I’m not sure how Americans became so obsessed with consuming liquids. In the “good old days when I was a kid” (sorry, I hate to keep bringing this up) one did not see people walking around carrying drinks. People drank milk, coffee or water with meals, not soda, which was for special treats. They only drinks that came in individual serving bottles were soda and beer, which were packaged in glass bottles with a  metal cap that could only be opened with a bottle opener. It was difficult to carry around this kind of bottle because it was not reclosable, so people tended to drink it where they were, like at a movie, ball park or bar, and then were done with it. Coffee was served in porcelain cups in restaurants and was not available in disposable cups “to go.” If you wanted to carry a liquid with you, it would have to be in a canteen, which meant you were a boy or girl scout, and were on a camping trip. If people needed drinks while they were out, they used a drinking fountain. Cars, strollers and grocery carts did not have cup holders.

Somehow Americans went from this to the today’s model, where almost everyone is carrying around something to drink. I suspect the marketing of drink products is a large contributor to this paradigm shift, as well as a change in sales models, with increased access to beverage products through vending machines, self-serve soda counters in restaurants and grocery stores, “free” refills, Starbucks and the like on every corner, and individually packaged everything from juice boxes to Gatorade. If beverages are vigorously marketed, convenient to obtain, and easy to carry, then Americans are likely to drink up. 

So what’s wrong with consuming beverages? We’ve all heard the old adage that we should drink eight glasses of water daily. The problem is, for the most part, it’s not only water that we’re drinking. The relationship between weight gain and liquid calories has been rigorously studied. Some conclude that liquids, while providing calories, do not trigger a sensation of satiety (fullness) to the body, so we remain hungry, despite having ingested calories. Others have shown a relationship between weight gain and sugar-laden beverage consumption, whether the sugar source is high fructose corn syrup or sucrose, just from the sheer increase in calorie consumption. Others note that we have increased the calorie content of our meals by adding soda instead of water, and in larger portions with aka big gulp size cups and free refills. 

In short, we are consuming more calories but not satisfying our hunger, we are finding it easier to buy and carry liquids with us, and are consuming larger portions than in previous times.  All factors together contribute to more weight. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30070941/

So what about diet soda? While diet soda has few calories, the sweet taste triggers a desire for more food. http://diet.lovetoknow.com/wiki/Diet_Soda_Weight_Gain In addition, others have found that diet soda  confuses our body’s regulatory system between hunger and weight gain, changes our taste sensation, making other foods taste bland in comparison to the taste of diet soda, and seems to affect weight gain in ways that remain unexplained http://www.fooducate.com/blog/2010/01/03/three-reasons-to-rethink-that-diet-coke-youre-about-to-drink/

Popular culture and strong sales and marketing influences encourages us to over-consume beverages. Super-thin Rachel on Friends was always drinking Diet Coke. Elaine couldn’t enter Jerry’s apartment on Seinfeld without going to the fridge for a bottle of something. Our celebrities and favorite TV characters  are drinking giant flavored coffees (they don’t even come in “small”) at (gasp) 710 calories a pop. 

“A large Starbucks Mocha Coconut Frappuccino with whipped cream adds a whopping 710 calories and
26 grams of fat” http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=56554

Think about your liquid consumption. If you’re drinking more than water and not liking what you see on the scale, think again. If you’ve been able to lose weight but cutting liquid calories, share your results.

http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/abstract/85/3/651

http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=56554

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3 thoughts on “Why America is Overweight, Part III: Liquid Calories

  1. I cut out Diet Coke and all sodas years ago and promptly dropped three pounds without doing anything else differently.

  2. Pingback: Finally – some help on my one woman war against cheese | Huffygirl's Blog

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