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Health Gain - Weight Loss - Part 7: Watch What You Drink!

     Since everything that affects weight also affects health, everyone needs to be mindful of what they choose to drink in addition to watching what they eat. Eating the right kinds of proteins, carbohydrates and fats in the right proportions is indeed important, but if good beverage choices are not made, a person’s best efforts to lose weight and be healthy may be sabotaged.

     Almost everyone understands that high calorie soft drinks, laden with sugar, are a bad choice when it comes to weight loss. However, many may not fully realize how a seemingly healthy drink, like fruit juice, can spike blood sugar, raise insulin levels and set off cycles of cravings and increased appetite that result in weight gain and poor health.

     Before we delve into the best beverage choices for maintaining optimal weight and health, let’s take a look at a few reasons why you may want to pass on drinking many of today’s most popular beverages.

America’s All Time Favorite Beverage

     Soft drinks top the list for the most popular drink choice of Americans. The fact that soda consumption has more than doubled since the early 1970’s is one of the primary reasons that the problem of obesity is so widespread in this country. Just 12 ounces of Coke contains the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar, which translates to 140 calories and 39 grams of sugar. Free refills and “super-sized” drink options make those numbers add up even more!

     As I have stated in previous articles, any time a concentrated amount of sugar hits the bloodstream, the pancreas releases a surge of insulin as a countermeasure. Higher insulin lowers blood sugar levels, which increases appetite and programs the body to store fat. By drinking soda, you not only fail to satisfy your appetite, but you also create the need in your body to eat more and store fat.

     Additionally, the caffeine contained in certain sodas is a diuretic (a substance that takes water out of the body), so when you drink it to quench thirst and to keep you hydrated; the caffeine in the soda actually creates the opposite effect (I’ll be discussing other harmful effects of caffeine when coffee is the topic). Furthermore, phosphoric acid contained in all soft drinks shifts pH levels to an unhealthy balance, which leaches calcium from bones (see my article “Understanding pH – Your Health is In the Balance”). All soft drinks are extremely acidic, with pH levels ranging anywhere from 2.5 – 4.3, depending on the type (the pH of pure water is 7). Too much acidity in the body causes the body to retain toxic fat.

Are Diet Sodas a Good Option for Weight Loss?

     Contrary to popular belief, switching to diet soda actually works to increase appetite and weight gain. The results of countless studies conclude that most individuals who use artif icial sweeteners gain more weight while using them. In laboratory studies, the ability of rats to regulate their caloric intake was significantly impaired when they were given artificial sweeteners. They consumed three times more calories than rats that drank real sugar drinks with no artificial sweeteners.

     In his recent book “I Can Do This” Diet, Dr. Don Colbert cites a study based on eight years of data that analyzed the effect of soda consumption on weight gain. Individuals who drank one or two cans of soda a day increased their likelihood of weight gain by 32.8 percent. Those who drank diet sodas at the identical rate increased their chance of weight gain by 54.5 percent!

     The actual presence of sugar is not necessary for the release of insulin to be triggered. Even thinking about something sweet (let alone having the super-sweet taste of artificial sweeteners hit the taste buds) signals the body to prepare a surge of insulin to respond to the anticipated onslaught of sugar. When the sugar doesn’t arrive, the resulting letdown stimulates craving for more sweets . . . this intense cravings for carbohydrates, in turn, leads to overeating.

How Alcohol Affects Weight

     The second-most commonly purchased beverage in this country is alcohol in its various forms. The main weight-related problem is that a gram of alcohol contains more calories than a gram of carbohydrates and almost as much as a gram of fat. When alcohol is consumed, a small portion is converted to fat and the rest is converted by the liver into a substance (acetate) that enters the bloodstream and is burned for fuel. Since the object in weight loss is to encourage the body burn fat for fuel, the consumption of alcohol is counterproductive to weight loss.

     Moreover, alcohol’s high sugar content not only stimulates appetite by increasing insulin levels, but also raises levels of cortisol (a stress hormone produced in the adrenal glands). Together these hormones produce a type of fat that surrounds the internal organs of the body, primarily in the area of the abdomen. The proper term for this type of fat is “adipose tissue” but it is more commonly known as “belly fat”. Belly fat is clearly linked to very serious health conditions on the rise in this country associated with metabolic syndrome, such as hypertension, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Coffee’s Connection with Health and Weight Loss

     Different schools of thought exist regarding whether or not drinking caffeinated coffee helps with weight loss. Caffeine in coffee is thought to stimulate thermogenesis; a process by which the body produces heat energy that continues to burn calories after food is eaten. While this short-term boost to the metabolic rate may burn off a few extra calories, little evidence exists to show that long-term coffee consumption aids weight loss. Drinking a cup of coffee also may curb appetite for the short term, but neither does this temporary benefit offset the negative effects of excess caffeine already discussed.

     Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, which triggers the release of stress hormones that were intended to give the body a temporary spurt of energy in emergencies. While this spurt of energy and sense of alertness may very well serve to provide a “pick me up” when a person is “dragging”, it is inevitably followed by a slump in energy. To counter this slump, most people drink more caffeine in some form or something sweet to get a “recharge”. Too much caffeine stimulates the body to the point where blood pressure and heart rate may increase and even cause heart palpitations. The added stimulation may also make a person feel “jittery” or “on edge”, which can increase appetite and the likelihood of reaching for more food. Caffeine can also interfere with sleep and a tired person is apt to eat more.

     The release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol signals the pancreas to send glucose into the bloodstream to provide muscle fuel for enabling a “fight or flight” response. When that extra fuel is not needed (as the person is typically just performing their routine tasks or sitting), the insulin released in response to the rise of glucose causes the blood sugar levels to drop and produce powerful cravings. This chain of events circumvents the burning of fat for energy and excess sugar in the blood turns into more fat stores. Repeatedly drinking caffeinated coffee (or any caffeinated beverage, for that matter!) keeps the body’s emergency stress response system continually switched to the “On” position, which in turn exhausts the adrenal glands and leads to other health problems.

     As I stated earlier, the caffeine in coffee and other beverages acts as a diuretic, causing the kidneys to remove extra fluid from the body. Moreover, vital minerals such as magnesium, potassium and sodium and B vitamins are depleted from the body along with the lost fluid. Since a well-hydrated body is key to health and weight loss, any drink that results in a loss of fluid – meaning any drink that contains caffeine – is not a good choice.

     Just by itself, coffee is detrimental to optimal health and weight loss efforts, but its worst effects are caused by what is added to it. Granted, some hardy souls drink their coffee “black”, but most people add cream and/or sugar to the brew which increases more than just calories. Coffee drinks containing high levels of sugar raise both insulin and cortisol levels. For example, the 33 grams of sugar in a 16 ounce Caffe Mocha with whipped cream (using 2% milk) from Starbucks adds up to a whopping 330 calories and 175 milligrams of caffeine. When you add the calories from the donut or piece of pie or cheesecake often eaten with that coffee drink and you come up with some serious damage to efforts to lose weight.

How Could Fruit Juice Be a Problem?

     Drinking a glass of juice is certainly healthier than any of the options mentioned thus far, since it contains some measure of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients (certainly more than is in soda!). However, unless it is fresh juice, many nutrients and nearly all of the enzymes and anti-oxidants (which are more sensitive to heat) are destroyed in the process of pasteurization.

     The main disadvantage of juice is that it has such a high concentrations of sugar (even those that are 100% juice) that the total grams of sugar and calories are about the same or greater (depending on the kind of juice) than the same quantity of soda. Another significant problem is the removal of fiber in the processing of the juice. Without fiber to slow down the absorption of the sugars, juice will also cause insulin to spike and set off the chain reaction that leads to increased appetite and cravings for sugar and other carbohydrates.

     If you are in the habit of drinking juice and want to cut back your sugar consumption, you can begin to wean your body away from the expectation of a sweeter taste by gradually diluting the juice with more and more water. Another option for the use of fruit in a beverage is to make a fruit smoothie by putting fresh fruit, water and ice in a blender. If you are out and about and want a cold, refreshing drink, you can purchase smoothies made with only fruit, requesting that no sugar or artificial sweetener be added.

Don’t Let “Energy” Drinks Deceive You

     Energy drinks contain large amounts of sugar (or artificial sweeteners) and caffeine, along with herbal stimulants, vitamins and/or amino acids. It is the combination of high amounts of sugar and caffeine, along with stimulating herbs (which may not be from safe sources) that jolt the adrenal glands to produce stress hormones (adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol) that give the temporary boost of energy.

     The problem is that repeated overstimulation of the adrenal glands can lead to adrenal exhaustion and fatigue that has far reaching long-term effects on energy levels, metabolism, regulation of blood sugar and hormonal balance. Rather than provide your body with true energy, it sets the stage for long-term energy depletion.

What to Drink Instead?

The Role of Water in Weight Loss

     There is no disputing the fact that pure water is the healthiest beverage for your body and produces the greatest weight loss benefits. When you consider that our bodies consist of over 70% water and that 2 ½ quarts are lost daily just from breathing, perspiration and elimination, you can better understand the immense importance of staying hydrated to enable the body to function as it should. Apart from drinking sufficient water to support all the bodily processes involved in metabolism, weight loss efforts can easily fail.

     Many times people confuse the need to drink water with the urge to eat food. If you get in the habit of drinking water when you feel like you want to eat something, you may find that such urges to eat subside as the body receives what it truly needs.

     Drinking water approximately twenty minutes before each meal is a great habit to develop, because it creates a sense of fullness, which serves to reduce appetite. It also becomes easier to get into the habit of drinking less liquid with meals. Why is this a good practice? Drinking too much liquid during meals can dilute necessary digestive secretions of the stomach, making the process of breaking down food far less effective (see my article “Digestion – It All Starts Here” for more information on digestive health). Indirectly, good digestion helps weight loss: when the body is able to assimilate the nutrients it needs, cravings for foods tend to subside and less is eaten.

     Another way that water indirectly benefits weight management is by enabling the liver to do its job of metabolizing fat. Since the kidneys need plenty of water to function effectively, when people drink insufficient water the kidneys cannot properly do their job. The liver, in this case, usually takes up the slack to obtain the water it needs to metabolize fats. However, while it is doing the work of the kidneys, fats in the body are not sufficiently metabolized and may then accumulate as fatty cells and tissues in the body.

     Dehydration also weakens the efficiency of the body’s metabolism by causing a drop in body temperature. In response, the body stores fat in order to have the means on hand to raise the body temperature to its proper level. Dehydration also causes the body to perceive a threat to its survival. It reacts by secreting a hormone that causes it to retain water. When it begins to receive sufficient water on a regular basis, it releases the water stored while in “survival mode”, which can translate to the loss of several pounds.

     It is very important for health to ensure that the water you are drinking is pure and free of chlorine, fluoride and other chemicals. I would encourage you to read my articles on the “Wonders of Water” for more information on what kind of water to drink and what kind to avoid.

      Many people who have been accustomed to drinking sweet-flavored beverages have often experienced difficulty in converting over to drinking pure water. To make the transition easier and more gradual, you can add fresh lemon or lime, small amounts of fruit juice and/or stevia to regular water, or for a special treat, to sparkling waters. It simply is a matter of retraining your body and your taste buds to get used to the taste of pure water. You will adjust in time and feel so much better when your system is free of the unhealthy sugars and chemicals in other drinks.

Herbal and Super Anti-Oxidant Teas

     Herb teas, which may be prepared hot or iced, are at great option for taking in water than has flavor, in addition to the beneficial properties of the herbs. Fresh lemon or other fruit juice may be squeezed in and a small amount of a healthy sweetener added to make it even more appealing.

     Green tea is another option. If you are like me, you may not particularly care for the taste of green tea, but knowing its health benefits and how it works to boost metabolism may provide motivation to drink it more often. It helps that green tea comes blended with all sorts of other flavorful fruits and herbs (mango and lemongrass are my current favorites) that make it taste much better, especially if a few drops of liquid stevia are added.

     Green tea contains high concentrations of catechin polyphenols (powerful anti-oxidant compounds that stimulate thermogenesis). Catechins are also thought to be beneficial in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and Alzheimer’s disease. As with coffee, the caffeine in green tea also stimulates thermogenesis. However, decaffeinated green tea is available for those who prefer to avoid caffeine altogether.

     Compounds in green tea also slow the release of carbohydrates, which prevents sharp rises in insulin levels. With such regulation of blood sugar levels, hunger pangs, cravings and fat storage are in turn reduced. To assist patients who want to lose weight, Dr. Don Colbert recommends drinking three or four cups a day of freshly brewed green tea, as it contains the most catechins.


      This article by no means exhausts healthy beverage ideas that won’t undermine your weight loss efforts. However, I hope it will give you a start in transitioning from less than healthy drink options to those that will enhance your health and help you experience success in managing your weight.


I Can Do This” Diet by Dr. Don Colbert




http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress/sr00001 http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/34734/coffee_and_weight_loss_does_it_really_pg4.html?cat=51


Copyright © 2008-2015 Lucinda Bedogne, CNHP, CNC

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