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Drinks are a curse for those trying to lose weight

January 16, 2014

Mark L. Friedman, MD, FACEP, FACP

As obesity has become a national epidemic, a simple and painless path to weight loss has become the universal quest. It is the 21st Century equivalent of turning base metals into gold or discovering perpetual motion.

As a society we are spending millions (if not billions) of dollars on diet books, special meals, and surgical procedures, all in the quest for weight loss.

So the secret to success in this quest should be worth millions at least. Well today only, I am giving it away for free! Of course if you want to send money I won't turn it away. The simple truth of the matter is that one of the major secrets to weight loss (for others see more of my blog posts, including this one on popcorn) is that we drink too many of our calories.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 20-ounce regular soda contains 227 calories. So if, like 25 percent of Americans, you are getting more than 10 percent of your calories from sugared beverages on a daily basis, here's the easy way to significantly cut your calorie consumption. If you forgo 227 calories a day for a year (all other things being equal), you will lose 24 pounds of fat. Sugared drinks do not satisfy your appetite, they contain no fiber, and they contain little in the way of nutrients "” hence the term "empty calories."

This is obviously not the complete solution, but it's a good and relatively painless start.

But isn't drinking fluids good for you, and in fact necessary for life? The ideal replacement for these high calorie drinks is water. It contains zero calories, zero sodium, zero cholesterol, and "” here's the best part "” it's free! So you save calories and money at the same time. If you like the convenience of the bottle you can always buy bottled water (or just buy the bottles and fill them from the tap). If you like the fizz, buy sparkling water. The CO2 is harmless to drink but may add to your enjoyment. If you refrigerate the bottles, tap water is every bit as refreshing and actually quenches your thirst better than any of the sugared drinks, which tend to keep you coming back for more. If the chlorine taste bothers you, leave the bottles open for a few hours and the chlorine will gas off.

The corollary to this "secret" is that many other beverages, including such seemingly healthy alternatives as fruit juices (even orange juice) contain sugar (and calories), often as much or even more than soda drinks.

And then there's alcohol. Beer contains approximately 140 to 200 calories per 12 ounces. Even "light" beer contains 100 or more calories per 12 oz. can. A shot of liquor (1.5 oz.) contains 115-200 calories. A 4 oz. glass of wine contains anywhere from 62-160. Mixed drinks are where the calories really add up, ranging from approximately 280 calories for a gin and tonic to more than 800 calories for some of the frozen drinks.

So, am I trying to take all the enjoyment out of life by denying you (and myself) soft drinks, juice, and alcoholic beverages? No. I sometimes drink fruit juice and even alcohol (though rarely soda drinks). But when I am looking to quench my thirst, or to have a beverage with a meal, I usually reach for a glass of good old, "clear gold" liquid H2O.

Originally published Jan 16, 2014 10:00:00 AM.