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Guest Columnist Author: Robyn Flipse, MS, RD Last Updated: Sep 7, 2017 - 10:11:17 PM

What Role Do Beverages Play in a Healthy Diet?

By Robyn Flipse, MS, RD
May 17, 2009 - 7:49:26 AM

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( - Depending on what you read and who you listen to, you might be convinced that the only beverage people need to drink is water. The most basic line of reasoning for this belief is that since body weight is made up of 60 percent water, and we lose water each day through respiration, perspiration and elimination, we must replace those losses by drinking more water. Sounds simple enough, but is that all there is to it?

In fact, water is just one of many beverages that can be used to keep our bodies properly hydrated. Around the globe, tea, coffee, fruit juices and ades, milk, sparkling beverages, sports and energy drinks all help to meet people’s daily fluid requirements. Even foods can contribute 2-3 cups of moisture a day to our “water” intake. And according to the 2004 report on hydration issued by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science, this variety of foods and beverages is well suited to satisfy the different fluid requirements of people of all ages and activity levels, in different climates and states of health. So why all the fuss about those “other” beverages?

Other beverages offer flavors, nutrients and/or calories that are not found in water. The many flavor options certainly make it more enjoyable to drink all that we need each day, approximately 9 to13 cups for adults. Imagine how monotonous it would be if we had to rely on just one type of fruit to provide our daily requirement for Vitamin C? Beverages such as milk and 100 percent fruit and vegetable juices provide important nutrients while helping to meet our fluid requirements. But they also contain calories, as do sweetened tea, lemonade, soda, sports and energy drinks, and this is where the lines start to blur.

Because some researchers were able to show an association between sweetened beverage consumption and the rising incidence of obesity in the US, it was assumed that eliminating sweetened beverages from the diet could help reduce obesity. However, “assumptions” based on “associations” are not a foundation on which to build dietary policy. It is true that sweetened beverages do contain calories, but so do non-sweetened drinks, like milk, and naturally sweet drinks, like fruit juice. Unfortunately, the rapidly rising rates of obesity in the US and around the world cannot be blamed on any single food, drink or ingredient. Multiple changes have taken place in the way we live, as well as in what we eat and drink, all of which have contributed to this epidemic.

The only key to the obesity dilemma that this “beverage debate” provides is the light it sheds on the role of calories in weight control. At its simplest, all of the calories we consume – whether in a liquid or solid form – must be matched by enough activity to “burn” those calories in order to maintain body weight. To lose weight, the calories coming in must be less than those going out. Here’s where non-caloric sweeteners come to the rescue.

Beverages made with low and no-calorie sweeteners provide the same flavor, fizz and functional options as full-calorie drinks, but with fewer calories. So people looking to manage their calorie intake can continue to enjoy a variety of beverages without exceeding their caloric allowance. And, according to the February 2009 Mintel report, “America’s Changing Drinking Habits,” that’s just what people are doing.

The report looked at changes in non-alcoholic beverage consumption between 2003 and 2008. Among the findings was a shift towards “lighter beverages” with just 68 percent of respondents saying they drank regular soda in 2008, down from 76 percent in 2003, and 7.8 million more adults reporting they were drinking diet soda in 2008 than did in 2003.

This trend was also found by Maureen Storey, Ph.D., Senior Vice President of Science Policy for the American Beverage Association and presented at the 2009 Experimental Biology meeting. Using data from the 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), beverage consumption for males and females from ages 6 though 60+ was compared with that reported in 1999-2002 NHANES. Preliminary results show regular carbonated soft drinks, milk products and fruit juice consumption have decreased, while consumption of diet fruit drinks/ades has increased.

The issue of obesity aside, one of the factors that may be behind this positive trend is the growing assortment of “sugar substitutes” on the market that have made even more beverage choices possible. Each sweetener has different properties that make it ideally suited for different food and beverage applications. By combining different sweeteners in a product, beverage companies are delivering on consumers’ desires for taste and sweetness while meeting the need to stay hydrated, refreshed and energized.

For more information on low/no calorie sweeteners, visit: or

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