Thursday Thoughts: Caloric Beverages

It's Thursday, so you know what that means...

Thursday Thoughts

If you are new to my blog, or haven't been reading on Thursdays, this is a segment where I post my thoughts about various nutrition and health related topics, or maybe even something else if it is really an intriguing topic.  Most of my current views and opinions come from experience working as a dietitian and as college instructor in nutrition courses.  Most of that learning is science based or observational from the clinical setting.  In general, I hate over-generalizations, so for many of the things I post, I expect there is one or two exceptions because broad sweeping generalizations are always bound to miss out on something.

This week I picked a topic that came to mind while I was thinking about some things I have read in the past few weeks.  One was on diet soda and weight status, and the other was about milk being part of a healthy diet.  So I decided that I would address caloric beverages this week (yes, I do know diet soda is not caloric, or rather not too caloric), looking at 5 different options of caloric beverages and how these fit, or don't fit, in a healthy diet.

1) Soda- Obviously most, if not all, of us will agree that regular sodas are just a poor choice for almost everyone out there.  Each can provides calories that really would be better "spent" elsewhere.  There are no other major desirable nutrients coming from it (unless you found a soda that is fortified...there are some out there, although the ones I have seen are diet).  I know everyone is familiar with this term-empty calories.  That about sums it up for regular soda.  Now, on the off chance that you have some "extra" calories to "spend" for the day and you have gotten all your vitamins and minerals in, a regular soda is one use for your discretionary, or extra calories. But for the most part, there are better ways to use those extra calories, and for most people looking to lose weight, those extra daily calories just aren't there.  I also wanted to mention diet soda.  True, it has no calories, and yes, I know there is talk that it can cause weight gain.  The one major thought I have on this is that diet soda plays into the concept of a "health halo".  This means there is something about it that seems healthy so people assume it is without giving much thought to it.  In the case of diet soda, I think people use this concept in a way.  I have worked in food service in the past I know that a lot of people order the diet soda to go along with high calorie items.  Like it gets tossed in as a freebie.  So I wonder at times if data showing obese people drink diet soda it is because they do this to "feel better" about other food choices or use it as a "freebie" thinking it somehow balances out higher calorie meals.  Almost like there is a sacrifice being made.  Additionally, I wonder if they drink soda as a response to the weight gain after the fact.  For example, someone is obese and knows that it is a good idea to switch to diet soda, because this is a part of "dieting".  Perhaps you feel like you are "dieting" by drinking diet soda, although some other diet choices do not reflect this.  As a result, I think caution should be used with diet soda because I do think it gives off the impression there is something good or healthy about it, but you would be better off with water.  I will admit, I do drink diet moderation! (confession-my favorite is a diet soda here in Japan, it is a ginger soda, and happens to be fortified with B12, B6 and C.  I like it because of the taste.  It's really gingery!)

2) Juice- We all know that fruit is healthy, so the juice must be too.  Right?  Well, the answer here is tricky.  Sometimes yes and sometimes no.  In my personal opinion, you can't beat eating the fruit.  The nutrition you get from the whole fruit versus the juice really makes me want the fruit.  The fiber is a major benefit too.  Plus, the same calories you get from eating it versus drinking it last a lot longer, meaning it takes longer to get in the calories from eating an apple than it does to drink the juice.  I would rather prolong that experience and enjoy the flavors and often crunchiness of the whole fruit.  Plus, many juices have added sugars, meaning more than what was naturally in the fruit, if eaten in it's whole form.  Another problem I have seen often with juice is that the consumption is just so fast that it is easy to over do it.  The portion is really small (4-6 ounces depending) and the more portions consumed at once the faster those calories add up.  Juicing at home is a little different, but like I said before, there is just a greater enjoyment for me in actually eating the fruit, and then drinking some water for my hydration.

3) Milk- Yes, there is a big issue with whole milk, and even the lower fat milks (but nothing like with whole milk).  It is true that we can get the same nutrients in milk from other foods.  In fact, some of those good nutrients we drink milk to obtain, are not naturally occurring, but rather are fortified.  With whole milk there is the big concern with saturated fat.  We just don't need it.  The calories from all the extra fat add up quickly too, and it is just too easy to over do it on beverages that it is not worth the nutritional content to get it with all those calories.  However, I will say that fat free milk (and even 1% to an extent, depending on how much you use) is not that bad of a way to get in those nutrients.  The calorie difference between whole milk and fat free is enough that you can have fat free milk as part of a healthy diet because you are getting nutrients that way for under 100 calories in a serving.  On a side note- yogurt, especially Greek, can be part of a healthy diet too, despite whatever Harvard may say about milk not being healthy.  I think that within the dairy group, just like in all food groups, some choices are better than others.

4) Smoothies- This is a hot one in our house right now, or shall I say a cold one!  Smoothies are another drinkable treat that can be healthy, but can also be unhealthy.  Very large size smoothies with added sugars are definitely not going to help keep your weight in check no matter how badly you want to believe they are healthy.  Yes, smoothies provide nutrients, and lots of good ones, but adding extra sugar is not necessary and quickly changes the health benefits of these drinks.  It also depends what is added.  A full fat yogurt is very different from a fat free greek yogurt (which is what we use).  The portion also makes a difference.  The calories add up fast as the size of the cup goes up.  But, you are getting in fruit servings, so within reason, there is a benefit there.  Just don't be fooled by seemingly healthy smoothies.  Not all smoothies are created equal!  In fact, there is a smoothie "mix" I see in the commissary.  This is a bag of frozen fruit, and then a syrup packet, so you get to add some extra sugar.  I like the mix of fruit they offer, but I would much rather buy just the frozen fruit and blend that myself because it is so sweet and tangy that I have no need for anything sweeter. 

5) Alcohol- This is a big one to mention in conjunction with moderation.  There are certainly health benefits to some alcoholic beverages, but at the same time, in excess, many negative health consequences.  Like all beverages, it is easy to get a lot into the body in a short amount of time and have those calories add up.  the good news with alcohol is that many times, when consumed in a social setting, are sipped slowly, so they last longer, helping you to not over do it on either the calories or the alcohol itself.  Some beverages, like wine, do have some benefits, so as long as you are eating a balance diet and accounting for "liquid" calories, alcohol can fit into a healthy diet.

So, there you have it- my thoughts on some caloric beverages and how they may or may not fit into your healthy diet.  I like to look at things from the big picture standpoint, so I have a hard time calling one food good or bad.  It depends how it fits in your diet and if you are meeting your needs.  Everyone is different.

QUESTIONS:  What are your thoughts on caloric beverages?  Are there some you consume?  Which do you avoid?  


Gina; The Candid RD said...

The first thing I tell all of my clients is; "There are two caloric beverages I believe it, one is milk and the second is beer". And then I follow by saying, "and even those I don't believe you should have more than one a day!". Unless, of course, milk is the only way you get your calcium. I tend to recommend yogurt more often because it takes longer to consume, and it's more filling. I am NOT a fan of caloric beverages (not even smoothies) and I always tell clients to stick to 4-6 ounces of juice per day, AT MOST, if they must have juice.
Great post.

Special K said...

I JUST did a handout on this for the pediatric department: (email for a copy). All pediatricians here are advised to tell parents that juice and soda should be BANNED in the house, are a waste of money and UNHEALTHY for development. I have been limiting myself to 3-4 DIET sodas a week and it still seems like I am craving LESS sugar.

Email me and I can give you some awesome handouts for your clients out there

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