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Holiday beverages

12/19/06 12:00AM By Rachel Johnson
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(HOST) Commentator Rachel Johnson says that one good way to beat winter weight gain is to think about what you drink.

(JOHNSON) Tis the season of eggnog and hot chocolate, mulled cider and sparkling wine. Tis also the season when Americans put on half of our annual weight gain. Granted, that's just two pounds a year, and a pound or two between Thanksgiving and New Year's doesn't seem all that bad. But if it happens year after year after year well, you can do the math.

It's easy to blame the holiday cookies, but festive foods and rich desserts aren't the only culprits. At five hundred calories, a Starbucks 16-ounce eggnog latte has almost twice the calories of a regular-size Snickers bar. A cup of rich hot chocolate can add up to thirteen Hershey's Kisses.

Sugar-sweetened beverages like soft drinks, fruit drinks and sweetened teas are a key contributor to excessive weight gain and obesity. That was the conclusion a team of Harvard researchers reached last August after analyzing thirty beverage studies.

Not to be a Scrooge - I love a glass of wine or a cup of hot cocoa after skiing - but I recognize that if I don't want to gain weight, I'll need to count the calories I drink. This is important because nutritionists have learned that we don't compensate for calories we take in from beverages in the same way we do for those from solid foods. One study found that subjects who snacked on a large handful of peanuts were likely to eat less at their next meal. This compensation didn't happen when the snack calories were provided as a beverage instead. Not surprising when you consider that the peanuts haveeight grams of protein and almost three grams of fiber per ounce - both of which help you feel satisfied. Even an apple, which has five grams of dietary fiber, will satisfy you longer than drinking the same number of calories in an eight-ounce glass of apple juice, with no fiber.

But fiber and protein don't fully explain why drinks aren't as satisfying as solid food. Some scientists hypothesize that the simple act of chewing may be an important influence as well. Preliminary studies on chewing and satiety look so promising that Wrigley, the chewing gum company, is studying whether gum-chewing might help people manage their weight.

But who wants to pass on the party drinks and just chew gum during the holidays? My solution is to think about what I drink so I can leave room for my favorite holiday foods. Most of the time, I choose beverages with no calories. These include coffee, herbal teas and water. I make some exceptions, though. One is skim milk, which I drink a couple of times a day. The other exception is wine. I'd rather run an extra mile on my treadmill than give up an occasional glass of Chardonnay with dinner.

We're always being reminded to drink responsibly when alcohol is involved - and not just during the holiday season. Now there's one more good reason to think about what we drink.

Nutritionist Rachel Johnson is Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at UVM and an advisor to EatingWell magazine.

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