What’s wrong with taking nourishment in liquid form? It’s certainly convenient, and if you make your own “smoothie” or some nutrient-dense concoction in a juicer or blender, you are assured of a “healthy” beverage of your own composition and making, right? Well, “yes” up to a point, but “no” for a host of other, very good reasons.
1) The calories we drink go quickly “down the hatch” No chewing required. Chewing is the first mechanical step in digestion. It takes energy and time to chew. It also takes time for needed enzymes in the mouth, stomach and small intestine to process chewed solid food into chyme to break it down to where it can be absorbed. If food has already been liquefied, these physiological functions are “side-stepped,” and calories are absorbed more quickly and easily. The order of gastric (stomach) emptying is: liquids first, then carbs, then protein, and then fat and fiber.
2) “The mechanisms controlling hunger and thirst are completely different,” wrote food writer and nutritionist Katherine Tallmadge in a December 2004 Washington Post article. “Physiologically, your thirst is quenched once your blood and cell volume are increased by water. This sends signals to your brain that you are no longer thirsty. In contrast, hunger is regulated in your stomach and intestines. The hormone Ghrelin secreted in the stomach wall helps you feel full.” Ghrelin doesn’t work as well with liquids as it does with solid foods. “Our bodies don’t detect the calories in these liquid foods the same way as when we eat solid foods,” Tallmadge said.
3) Liquid calories add up in a way that can be surprising. The liquid calories in smoothies, juice drinks, sodas and even specialty coffees are stealthy. “A White Chocolate Mocha totals 410 calories (whole milk, no whip) or 510 calories with whip. In my world, 510 calories is an entire meal,” says Elaine Magee on WebMD. Tallmadge, in her Washington Post article, concurs: “When you consider that an appropriately sized meal is anywhere from 400 to 700 calories, and one 44-ounce Super Big Gulp is 800 calories, you understand the scope of the problem. A 16-ounce Starbucks blended coffee Frappuccino is 470 calories. A single mixed drink can set you back 300 calories. One glass of wine contains at least 100 calories. “Most caloric drinks consumed before or during a meal are not satiating and have little effect on how much you eat in one sitting or over the course of several meals.”
The good news, Tallmadge notes, is that “since liquid calories don’t contribute to feelings of satiety, cutting back on them doesn’t make people feel deprived; most find the change is an easy one to make.” So, what changes should be considered? The Harvard School of Public Health pondered this question and put together a Beverage Guidance Panel. From the March 2006 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, here are their recommendations:
1) Water: Quelle surprise! But pure H2O does provide “everything the body needs – to restore fluids lost through metabolism, breathing, sweating, and the removal of waste. It’s the perfect beverage for quenching thirst and rehydrating your system” according to the group. We could end this list here! We used to, come to think of it.
2) Tea and Coffee: “Drunk plain, they are calorie-free beverages brimming with antioxidants, flavonoids, and other biologically active substances that may be food for health.” They especially like the strong green tea varieties served in Japan. However, adding cream, sugar, whipped cream and flavorings make it “closer to a dessert.”
3) Low-fat and skim milk and soy beverages: Here’s where the Harvard School of Public Health/Beverage Guidance Panel and I part company. I avoid the carbs in milk and only take heavy cream. I do not avoid saturated fat, and I do avoid soy products altogether: e.g., soy bean oil, soy milk. But I do use naturally fermented soy sauce.
4) Noncalorically Sweetened Beverages: This category includes the “so-called diet sodas and other diet drinks that are sweetened with calorie-free artificial sweeteners. They include stevia in this category, and liquid sugar alcohols.
5) Caloric Beverages with Some Nutrients: This group includes “fruit juice, whole milk (!), sports drinks, vitamin-enhanced waters, and alcoholic beverages (?). This category includes 100% fruit juice, aka a “liquid candy bar.”
6) Calorically Sweetened Beverages: These “least recommended” include drinks sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). It also includes noncarbonated soft drinks, fruit drinks, lemonade, etc. They’re all just sugar water.