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What’s in Your Glass? The Drinking Problem No One is Talking About

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Do you want to know the quickest way to sabotage your healthy eating plan? DRINK your “food”

Sugary drinks that contain little to no nutritive value (empty calorie beverages) are linked to the rising obesity epidemic as well as to other dire health-related consequences.

It’s not front page news to announce that sugar is unhealthy. The surprising revelation, however, is that it matters how we consume sugar. In fact, it matters a great deal.

Listed below are a few of the dangers associated with drinking our food.

  1. Speed
  2. The not-a-meal-mindset issue
  3. Little to no beneficial nutrients
  4. Overall unawareness of ingredients in purchased drinks
  5. Little to no fiber content
  6. High sugar content
  7. Confuses the body’s natural ability to signal hunger/satiety

It’s important to keep in mind that drinking your food allows you to consume MORE calories and do it FASTER than in any other way. Unless you’re a Major League Eater (there is such a thing!), chewing your food takes more time than drinking your food.

Why is time (or speed) relevant? You may not think about the time it takes to slurp your favorite high calorie, empty nutrient drink. What about an iced minty mocha on a hot day? You may power it down so quickly, that you decide to spring for a second. But, wait. Did you plan to consume 1400 calories in just a few minutes? That might be an entire day’s worth of calories – with none of the potential nutritional benefits of food.

Why Drinks Count

Many consider drinks to be treats, snacks, or just something with which to wash down their meals. A drink is consumed as a snack or WITH a meal. It’s NOT viewed as the meal itself. This not-a-meal-mindset is dangerous in several ways. Without intentionally doing so, we may believe that drinks don’t count when it comes to an entire day’s meal plan. We may be acutely aware of what we plan to eat, but we drink with far less intentional design.

When I work on meal planning with clients, they frequently have no problem reciting their daily intake of food. In contrast, they find it difficult to remember what drinks they’ve had throughout the day. They may say they’ve had nothing but water all day, but when prompted about the drive-thru at Starbucks, they say, “Oh yeah! I always have a blended whipped caramel mocha frappe in the morning.” I call this, “mocha amnesia.”

In addition, most of us don’t know what’s actually in our favorite blended drinks or smoothies. This becomes quite apparent when trying to concoct our own recipe at home. We wouldn’t intentionally blend our favorite ingredients together in a glass and then top it off by stirring in ¼ cup or more of sugar. Yet, we’ll happily drink it in a to-go cup.

Of course, calories aren’t the only issue here. A significant concern with consuming high-calorie beverages such as blended drinks, fruit smoothies, alcoholic cocktails, etc. is that they contain few (if any) nutrients. Sugar, artificial flavorings, and artificial dyes top the list of contents. There’s little, if any, nutritional value.

The Fiber Factor

There’s also little to no fiber, which is an essential nutrient that helps the body to stabilize or balance blood sugar levels. Fruit juice (even 100% fruit juice) is still a high sugar drink. Mother nature packages fruits to contain the juice, fiber (found in the skin, pith, and pulp), and the natural digestive enzymes necessary to fully metabolize the fruit. Because fiber (among other nutrients) does a powerful job of mitigating the insulin spike caused by a quick rush of sugar (fructose), consuming the whole fruit, rather than the juice, is always a good choice. Here’s an easy way to remember which is better:

The fruit, the whole fruit and nothing but the fruit.

Visualizing the Sugar in Your Drinks

I love to share nutritional facts with students in elementary schools. I thoroughly enjoy getting into the classroom and sharing tips on how to make healthy lunch choices and what to look for when reviewing food labels.

I have a favorite demonstration that I use to show students the surprising amount of sugar in their favorite drinks. I’ve sewn together the wrappers of butterscotch candies, stringing them together into a chain. I have a few chains of varying lengths. I explain that each candy contains approximately one teaspoon of sugar. As I hold up the strings of candies, the students are then encouraged to guess how many teaspoons of sugar are in their favorite drinks.

Here are some answers they find surprising:

Fruit punchabout 7 tsp of sugar
Apple juiceabout 7 tsp of sugar
McDonald’s strawberry lemonadeabout 10 tsp of sugar
Orange sodaabout 15 tsp of sugar


Next, I show them a dinner plate labeled with typical dinner foods. I arrange a string of candy onto the plate and ask if that’s how their meals look at home. They emphatically say no, their parents would never serve candy for dinner.

I’ll then ask for a show of hands of how many students are frequently served sodas, fruit juice, or fruit punch with their meals. Most, if not all raise their hands. Of course, my next question is, “What’s the difference between drinking the candy or eating the candy?”

This powerful exercise is definitely intergenerational. I’ve had moms ask me to explain it to them since their children now insist on drinking water with meals. Music to my ears.

Getting Our Signals Straight

When it comes to the body’s system for signaling hunger, drinking our foods poses another problem. Drinking (vs. eating) sends different signals to the body affecting our ability to feel full or sated.

You’ve probably heard of the leptin/ghrelin responses, but consider the differences they make when drinking our foods. Ghrelin (sometimes called the hunger hormone) stimulates hunger and creates the desire to eat. Leptin is the body’s natural counter balance to ghrelin. It sends signals to the body telling it that it’s full, satisfied, and no longer hungry. It’s easy to see how an imbalance in these hormones could deliver less than desirable results.

Leptin affects our appetite, our metabolism, and even our behaviors. It kicks in when the body has sent the proper signals to indicate fullness. This isn’t simply related to how much we’ve eaten. It takes time to feel that we’re no longer hungry. Slower eating and even chewing more thoroughly can prove helpful because the body has time to adjust and send the signals of satiety – before we’ve overeaten.

When calories are consumed quickly – by drinking them – we bypass (or at least compromise) the body’s natural system designed to let us know when we’re full. This can lead to overeating and consuming more calories than planned.

Drinking clean, filtered, pure water is the standard beverage of choice. Drinking beverages other than water is perfectly fine, of course. The goal is to be aware of what’s in them, and how often they’re consumed.

(Note: While drinking zero calorie beverages may sound like a good option, they often create other complicated health-challenging issues. Those with fibromyalgia, autoimmune conditions, diabetes, asthma, etc. may find artificial sweeteners to be particularly problematic.)

As always, it’s my intention to raise awareness regarding fundamental health topics. It’s my hope that after reading this article, you’ll be more aware of what’s actually in different beverage options and confidently choose those that meet your personal health goals.

The original article, published July 27, 2013, was updated on September 9, 2019.

Sue Ingebretson is becoming a most sought after symptom-relief expert in the fibromyalgia and chronic illness communities. She’s known for getting to the root of her client’s health challenges and delivering long-term results using a light-hearted approach without quick-fix remedies that only mask symptoms. You can find out more and contact Sue at www.RebuildingWellness.com.

Do you know that breakfast has the greatest potential to contribute to your PAIN? Grab your free Stop Feeding Yourself PAIN guide here and learn why!

Resources:Liu X, Li Y, Tobias DK, et al. Changes in types of dietary fats influence long-term weight change in US women and men. J Nutr. 2018 Nov 1;148(11):1821-1829. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxy183.

MacDonald A. Why eating slowly may help you feel full faster. Harvard Health Publishing. October 19, 2010. Retrieved from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/why-eating-slowly-may-help-you-feel-full-faster-20101019605

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One thought on “What’s in Your Glass? The Drinking Problem No One is Talking About”

  1. MaureenBeach says:

    No single food beverage or ingredient uniquely causes obesity. Science shows obesity results from a wide range of factors, including genetics, age, stress, sleep, physical inactivity, etc. Of course, when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight, balancing calories with exercise is key. Fortunately, today there are many beverage options on the market in an array of calories and sizes. As a result, consumers can make the informed choices that are right for them and their families. – Maureen at American Beverage Association

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