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What's in Your Drink?

MAC Nutrition Team - Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Should You Rethink Your Drink?

For many people, October marks the start of months of celebrations that are a bit (or a lot) more indulgent than the rest of the year. Halloween candy leads to mashed potatoes, gravy, and pie, which lead to eggnog, glazed ham, and plenty of cookies and sweets. It can all spill into the new year (plenty of champagne and heavy appetizers to go around!) and even February (chocolate, anyone?). This could mean five months of sweets, treats, and decadent food. That’s almost half the year!

In the upcoming months, we will have plenty of tips to help you navigate the holiday season in a healthy, balanced, and enjoyable way. Subscribing to the MAC nutrition department newsletter, The Nutrition Beet, will keep you informed on all things related to holiday eating. In the meantime, as you gear up for the months ahead, one great area to focus on in terms of nutrition is drinks.

Beverages can be a major source of sneaky calories and especially sneaky sugar. Because sugar-sweetened and rich, creamy, heavy beverages such as eggnog, hot chocolate, and flavored coffee drinks can be a big part of holiday festivities, it’s important to be mindful of just how they may be affecting your body.

Because sweet beverages pack a lot of sugar without any fiber, they digest extremely quickly, resulting in a spike in blood sugar. This blood sugar spike then leads to a spike in insulin, the hormone that is released in response to rises in blood sugar in order to help your body remove the sugar from your blood and utilize it for energy. This spike in insulin can then lead to a fast drop in blood sugar, which can cause fatigue, drowsiness, brain fog, and irritability. Sweet beverages can, therefore, lead to a blood sugar rollercoaster, which can make you feel less than stellar throughout the day. In addition to the way blood sugar spikes can make you feel, blood sugar spikes can lead to weight gain, specifically in the form of an increase in body fat. When insulin is high in the blood, which happens as a result of high blood sugar, it signals to the body that there is enough energy, encouraging the body to store that energy, often in the form of fat. This fat-storage mechanism is one reason why sweetened beverages aren’t so helpful to those who are trying to lose weight or keep their weight stable.

Rich, sweet celebratory drinks don’t just pack extra quickly-digested sugar. They are often laden with cream and sometimes alcohol. Cream and whipped cream contribute a lot of calories without making you feel full or offering helpful nutrients. Like any type of full-fat dairy, cream and whipped cream are sources of saturated fat, which can be a contributing factor in high cholesterol and heart disease. While alcohol in small amounts may actually be protective against heart disease, it’s easy to overindulge without realizing how many extra calories you are consuming. If you have several drinks over the course of the night, you could be accidentally drinking the equivalent of a decadent dessert. And because it’s easier to mindlessly sip on a drink than it is to cut and chew your food, you may be drinking more than you realize. On top of that, once you have more than one or two drinks in a day (one drink for women and two drinks for men), you will no longer be reaping the heart-healthy benefits of alcohol.

So, this holiday season, rethink your drink. At a party or gathering, sip on plain water at least half the time, alternating every other drink, or dress up your water with sparkling water or fruit infusions if you want something a bit more exciting. Try watering down your wine or having less-sweet cocktails, leaving out the sodas and sugary mixers. If you take your holiday coffee beverage with all the fixings, try gradually decreasing the amount of sweetener you put in—your taste buds will eventually adjust! And give it a try without the whipped cream—you just might enjoy it almost as much. Lastly, enjoy your holiday favorites, but do so mindfully. Savor your eggnog or hot chocolate, sipping slowly and noticing the scent, taste, and texture. If you truly take pleasure in your drink, you will be satisfied with less. Cheers!

Today's post is from Louisa Paine, Registered Dietitian at The Mount Auburn Club.

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The information presented here is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or health condition. As always, please speak with your registered dietitian regarding any dietary modifications or nutrition-related questions.