Think one sugary drink (or one glass of water) won't make a difference? Think again.
If sugary beverages are a part of your usual diet, swapping just one serving with plain water can help you shed excess pounds and improve health. That's according to a new study from the University of North Carolina and Virginia Tech.
Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages – e.g., pop, fruit drinks, iced tea, lemonade, sports drinks, energy drinks, tea and coffee drinks – is linked with increased body weight and a greater risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. It's also tied to more dental cavities in kids. Probably not new information, I know.
What might surprise you, though, is that replacing just one eight-ounce serving of a sugary drink with the same amount of water can make a difference to your waistline and, in doing so, can deliver health benefits.
How much sugar?
Eight ounces isn't a huge serving these days. Consider that a standard single soft drink serving is now 16 ounces (a medium size in most fast-food outlets), which delivers 220 calories and 56 grams of sugar (14 teaspoons worth). A single can of sugar-sweetened pop (12 ounces or 355 millilitres) has 155 calories and 36 g of sugar (nine teaspoons).
You'd have to order a child's-size drink to get an eight-ounce serving (28 g of sugar). But even that's more sugar than health authorities advise.
Guidelines from the World Health Organization, released in 2015, recommend that adults and kids reduce their intake of added sugars to less than 10 per cent of daily calories. A further reduction to less than 5 per cent of daily calories – roughly 25 g of sugar a day for women (six teaspoons) and 36 g (nine teaspoons) for men – may offer additional health benefits.
Eight-ounce drink swap beneficial
For the study, published earlier this summer in the journal Nutrients, researchers used a mathematical model to estimate the impact of replacing one eight-ounce serving of sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) with eight ounces of water on body weight in 16,429 American adults, 19 years and older. The findings: Among adults who drank one eight-ounce serving of SSB each day, replacing that with eight ounces of water cut daily calorie intake by one-third. In addition to saving calories from added sugar, choosing water over sweetened beverages may be tied to eating more fruits and vegetables and fewer sweets and refined starch.
The new findings provide evidence that a water-replacement strategy is an effective weight-management tool (it's not the only one, though). Among daily SSB consumers, those who swapped eight ounces with water lost up to four pounds over six months. That makes sense. An eight-ounce serving of cola, for instance, has 103 calories. Multiply that by seven days a week for six months: 17,304 calories.
Since it takes a calorie reduction of about 3,500 to lose one pound, a calorie deficit of 17,304 over six months translates into almost a five-pound loss – providing, of course, that other diet and exercise factors are held constant.
Previous studies have also found that drinking water (16 ounces) before meals helps dieters increase the feeling of fullness and reduce calorie intake at meals. This study was based on Americans who, data indicate, drink twice the quantity of sugary beverages than Canadians do. Even so, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, one-third of youth, from the age of five to 19, consume sugary beverages every day.
What about diet drinks?
If you're motivated to reduce – or ditch altogether – sugar-sweetened beverages, that's great. And you might be thinking that diet drinks will fill the flavour void.
It's true that diet soft drinks are sugar- and calorie-free. But harmless they're not. Observational research suggests that long-term consumption of artificially sweetened soft drinks may actually increase belly fat in older adults.
Artificial sweeteners in diet pop may also cause biological changes in the body that increase appetite and weight. They've also been shown to disrupt the balance of intestinal bacteria – in rodents and humans – in a direction that could lead to obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
Plain water is best
Your best beverage choice is plain water – it's free of calories, added sugar and sodium, colouring and preservatives. If you find water boring, choose carbonated water. Contrary to popular belief, club soda is very low in sodium – at most 50 mg for each 250 ml serving. Perrier carbonated spring water is sodium-free.
Keep a bottle filled with water handy – at your desk, at home or in the car. Sip it slowly during the day; avoid gulping water quickly to prevent too many trips to the washroom. (I'm loving my new S'well bottle; it keeps water cold for 24 hours.) Drink water during meals. Sipping water between bites will increase your fluid intake and slow your eating pace. Get kids used to drinking water so they don't become accustomed to drinking flavoured, sugary drinks when they're thirsty. Keep a pitcher of water on the dinner table.
Leslie Beck, a registered dietician, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto.