Study identifies the hidden weight culprit

Friday, November 16, 2012
Study identifies the hidden sugar that is weighing you down

While we've been so concerned about our intake of sugary soft drinks, another culprit in the obesity boom has gone under the radar.

A large US study has revealed we drink just as many kilojoules from alcohol as we do from sweet drinks.

The US government-funded study looked at the beverage intake of 11,000 people over three years and found that the average adult drinks 630 kilojoules from alcohol per day.

While soft drinks have been criticised for contributing about six percent of our average energy intake, it revealed alcoholic beverages also account for about five percent.

Calories refer to the energy content of food, which is now officially measured in kilojoules. There are about four kilojoules to a calorie.

"We've been focusing on sugar-sweetened beverages. This is something new," study author Cynthia Ogden from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention told the Associated Press.

"Beverage calories count for adults — we have forgotten that and not examined what beverages are contributing to caloric intake among adults.

"A beer is 150 calories and a soda is 150 calories," she said.

"Be aware of all of your calories consumed for the day including coffee and tea, sugar-sweetened beverages and alcohol."

However, according to recent Australian figures our alcohol consumption has dropped by 2.6 percent since 2009-2010. We consumed 2.2 standard drinks per person, per day in 2010-11.

Related: Drop a drink, drop a dress size

So should we be worried?

A standard drink consists of 12.5 millilitres of pure alcohol, but most of us will drink double that if we are helping ourselves. So while a standard glass of wine is equal to a row of milk chocolate, you might eat the whole block without even thinking about it.

Fats and alcohol are the most energy-dense foods, but energy we consume in alcohol is referred to as "empty calories" because it has little or no nutrients, dietitian Tara Diversi told Good Health magazine.

"You'd be amazed at how many clients I see who eat like a bird but drink like a fish and wonder why they can't lose weight," she said.

In addition, labelling laws here and in the US do not require nutritional information on alcoholic beverages which makes it difficult to make healthy choices. The other major culprit is mixers. Soft drink and juice added to spirits or wine can double the kilojoule content.

What's the best drink for your waistline? Based on the energy content your best options are light beer and spirits with soda water.

These are the average kilojoule content for common drinks:

  • Beer, full strength 250ml, 376
  • Beer, low alcohol 250ml, 106
  • Wine (red/rose/white) 120ml, 336
  • Champagne 120ml, 325
  • Spirits 30ml, 257
  • Liqueur 30ml, 546
  • Baileys Irish Cream 30ml, 400
  • Gin and tonic 1 serve, 460
  • Martini 1 serve 18g, 520
  • Wine spritzer (half soda)150ml, 207
  • Bacardi Breezer 275ml, 670
  • Lemon Ruski 300ml, 920

Each of these drinks equals approximately one standard drink:

  • A little less than 285ml pot of full-strength beer.
  • Two-thirds of a 375ml can of full-strength beer.
  • A 375ml can of mid strength beer.
  • One and a quater 375ml cans of low-strength beer.
  • 100ml of wine or sparkling wine.
  • A 30ml "shot" or "nip" of spirits.
  • Two-thirds of a 275ml bottle/can of ready-to-drink spirits/wine.
  • Two-thirds of a 375ml bottle/can of alcoholic cider.

Watch: Women's drinking habits changing

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