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Superfluous Fluids: Don’t Drink Calories (But milk may be ok)


Lyle McDonald of consistently puts out in-depth, even-keeled analysis on exercise and nutrition. I don’t always buy his conclusions, but he clearly knows his stuff and shares a great deal of knowledge freely on his site. His frank take can be funny, too.

Lyle has previously gone into great detail on milk as a sports drink. Milk has protein, fat and carbohydrates, which makes it more of a liquid food than a drink. Mother nature concocted the mix, so it has that going for it as far as the biological “benefit of the doubt.” Whether humans are evolutionarily designed to drink cow milk is another question. Suffice to say that it’s a hotly debated topic amongst the Paleo crowd.

I still enjoy cheese and (occasionally) ice cream.

In this particular article, Lyle discusses a paper that examined the impact on the human body of consuming “milk, beer, wine, tea, coffee, distilled alcoholic beverages, juice and soft drinks.” The big takeaway is simple: Don’t drink your calories except maybe milk.

Why? Apparently our bodies aren’t good at accounting/adjusting for the energy. This failure causes two problems: not only do our bodies fail to adjust overall caloric intake to account for the consumption of a Coke or Snapple, drinking these “empty calories” may result in overconsuming other foods! Talk about a double-whammy to your waistline!

Even though Lyle often goes middle-of-the-road where others end up more extreme (I.e. low-fat, or low-carb diets), this is one of the few times where he actually more or less makes an outright nutrition rule, which is that sugary drinks have no place in the human diet. He couples this thought with the tangential point that the demonization of HFCS is a distraction: raw sugar (i.e. diluted in water), no matter the form (glucose, sucrose, whatever), is the problem.

And honestly, how is this conclusion not obvious? Don’t drink sugar!

Other thoughts outside of Lyle’s take: I’m reminded of Seth Roberts of Shangri-La diet fame. Shangri-La asserts that the stronger the flavor/calorie association by our bodies, the more weight we will put on. I wonder if this is coming into play here in that sugary beverages typically are drank in concert with a meal. This results in more flavor and more energy density, heightening the Pavlovian association and raising “set point” (this is all based on my rudimentary understanding of Shangri-La). On the other hand, it makes it harder to explain how flavorless sugar water can cause appetite suppression if our bodies generally fail to register the calories. My hunch is that there is a more complex relationship here.

And one other thought: Lyle notes that for most of human existence the only liquids known to man were breast milk and water. Makes sense. Only one problem: human beings drank what, for lack of a better term, I’m going to call “wild water.” I have no idea what wild water was composed of as far as bacteria, nutrients, and minerals. However, I’m confident that it was not like the water we get from the tap or the filtered Brita stuff.

So maybe Coca-Cola should look into a new bottled water market — and yes, if they call it “wild water” I will seek royalties!

Looking globally, drink patterns have shown massive growth with soda products being consumed at a rate in excess of one billion drinks per day (makes you wish you’d bought stock, huh?). Beer consumption has shown the greatest increase with tea showing a slight increase. Wine and milk consumption have fallen globally, presumably due to the introduction of all the drinks that have made America rich, proud and very fat (my comment, not theirs).

The next section of the paper got into what is arguably the most important issue of the paper: the simple fact that for all but the last 11,000 years, the predominant fluids consumed by humans were water and breast milk and nothing else. Now, they go out of their way to point out that milk is a complete beverage containing protein, carbohydrate, fat and water. Water is, of course water which provides no calories. This is important because numerous studies have shown that humans show poor compensation for fluid calories.

Let me explain that a bit. Compensation means that the body will adjust caloric intake at other times of the day (or days later) for a given caloric load. So say you eat a bunch of candy earlier in the day and it provides 450 calories. What you might see is that, later in the day, folks eat a few hundred calories less than they’d normally eat. The body ‘compensates’ for the food you ate earlier. The problem is that most liquid calories aren’t compensated for well and figuring out why is of some interest to researchers.

This is also a big part of why all of the furor over HFCS is mis-placed in my opinion: the problem isn’t with the HFCS per se, it’s the form that people are getting it which is liquid calories. Which the body doesn’t compensate for well. But the body wouldn’t compensate any better for a sucrose containing drink, a glucose containing drink or any other caloric drink. Get it?

It’s got nothing to do with the HFCS content, it’s got to do with how the human bodyhandles non-milk caloric fluids. . . .

Of some interest (especially to me since I like jelly beans) one study compared the intake of 450 kcal or jelly beans to 450 kcal of a soft drink. the jelly bean consumers actually reduced their food intake by slightly more than the 450 calories in the jelly beans (Coming soon: the Jelly Bean Diet) later in the day.

The carb containing soft drink group not only failed to compensate for the drink but also increased their intake of other foods slightly. That is, not only did they get the added calories from the soft-drink, they ate more food as well; a double whammy in terms of weight gain. . . .

The sight and smell of foods also affects hormonal response, there is something called the cephalic insulin response for example, insulin can go up when people smell or taste sweet foods, long before it hits the bloodstream. Someone in the comments of one of my articles asked about sugar free drinks and it’s relevant here as they can stimulate insulin response in some folks; I’ll have to do a full feature on this at a later date [JNO: See Artificial Sweeteners and Energy Disregulation for a little more]. . . .

Carbohydrates alone stimulate the least number of appetite blunting factors, protein and fat stimulate the release of more. So you’d expect much less of a compensatory response to a drink containing protein and fat (think lowfat milk) as compared to one containing only carbohydrate (think fruit juice or a high sugar soda). Which is exactly what the studies have shown. Milk shows a nice normal compensation to intake; it’s effectively a liquid ‘food’. Sugar sweetened soft drinks show no compensation.

So folks living on sugary drinks are causing themselves major problems. Not only do the drinks themselves have scads of calories, the body doesn’t compensate for their intake. So all of those calories essentially end up being ‘added’ to the normal food intake (which is just as often awful in folks who drink lots of soda). In some people, the sweet taste seems to drive intake of other sugary foods so it’s a double whammy.


Cooking and Human Intelligence

Research has been conducted on human brain chemical processes that appear to have changed about 200,000 years ago. The findings may indicate that a leap in human advancement came as homo sapiens were able to consume greater calories, a necessary precursor to fueling our energy-hungry brains. In specific, what may have driven the advance is that humans learned:

The extra calories may not have come from more food, but rather from the emergence of pre-historic “Iron Chefs;” the first hearths also arose about 200,000 years ago.

In most animals, the gut needs a lot of energy to grind out nourishment from food sources. But cooking, by breaking down fibers and making nutrients more readily available, is a way of processing food outside the body. Eating (mostly) cooked meals would have lessened the energy needs of our digestion systems, Khaitovich explained, thereby freeing up calories for our brains.

Our brains need something like 500 to 700 calories a day in energy, so it stands to reason that greater energy uptake would foster advances in our intelligence.

The best quote from the article:

“This happened because we started to eat better food, like eating more meat,” said researcher Philipp Khaitovich of the Partner Institute for Computational Biology in Shanghai.

Take that, vegetarians!

(Link to the article at LiveScience)