Most weight-loss programs focus on what we eat. Two researchers, T. Bettina Cornwell of the University of Oregon and Anna R. McAlister of Michigan State University, say we should pay more attention to what we drink.
In a paper written up in the journal Appetite, they conclude that beverages consumed with a meal provide a powerful influence. It's not so much the calories in the beverages, it's how they play with your taste buds.
The paper featured separate studies. One involved a survey of 60 young U.S. adults between the ages of 19 and 23. The second involved 75 children, three to five years old.
The older group was served soda and chose salty, high-calorie foods to go with it. Preschoolers ate more raw vegetables, either carrots or red peppers, when accompanied with water rather than when accompanied by a sweetened beverage.
Influencing taste preference
"Our taste preferences are heavily influenced by repeated exposure to particular foods and drinks," said Cornwell. "This begins early through exposure to meals served at home and by meal combinations offered by many restaurants. Our simple recommendation is to serve water with all meals. Restaurants easily could use water as their default drink in kids' meal combos and charge extra for other drink alternatives."
Serving water, McAlister said, could be a simple and effective dietary change to help address the nation's growing obesity problem, which has seen increasing number of diabetes cases in young adults and a rise in health-care costs in general.
Drinking water with meals, Cornwell said, also would reduce dehydration. While estimates of dehydration vary by sources, many estimates suggest that 75 percent of adult Americans are chronically dehydrated.
Switching to water might help children the most. From an early age, Cornwell said, children learn to associate sweet, high-calorie drinks such as colas with salty and fatty high-calorie-containing foods like French fries.
"If the drink on the table sets the odds against both adults and children eating their vegetables, then perhaps it is time to change that drink, and replace it with water," Cornwell said.