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Make the drink switch

Published:Wednesday | April 18, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Charlyn Fargo, Contributor

Here's something to try: If you drink sweetened beverages, try switching to non-caloric drinks (water or diet drinks) for six months, and see if you lose weight. A group did just that and did, in fact, lose weight.

Sweetened beverages now supply more than 10 per cent of the calories in the average American's diet, a figure that seems to keep rising over time.

There's no solid evidence that cutting sweetened beverages will guarantee weight loss, according to the University of California Berkeley Wellness Letter (May 2012 issue). Observational studies have given unclear results because other factors come into play. (Some of us may compensate by thinking a Diet Coke allows a chocolate chip cookie; others may combine diet drinks with other weight-loss activities, so it's hard to say it's just the non-caloric drinks that result in shedding pounds).

Overweight or obese

The first large randomised study specifically testing beverage substitution was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studied 318 overweight or obese adults. A third were told to substitute diet beverages for at least two servings of caloric beverages a day with no other calorie reductions. Another third substituted water. And the final third received general weight-loss advice but were not told to switch beverages.

After six months, the diet drink and water groups lost five pounds, on average, compared to three pounds in the general-advice group. More significantly, the first two groups were twice as likely to have lost at least five per cent of their body weight.

Information courtesy of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and University of California Berkeley, Wellness Letter.

Steel-cut oatmeal and others

Q: Is steel-cut oatmeal more nutritious than other forms?

A: No. All forms of oatmeal are wholegrain, containing the same vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fibre (including the soluble fibre known for lowering blood cholesterol). Traditional oatmeal is referred to as rolled oats, because the wholegrain oats are softened by steam and flattened on rollers to form flakes. Steel-cut oats, also known as Irish or Scotch oatmeal, are cut by steel blades into small pieces without being flattened. Quick-cooking (one-minute) and instant oatmeal are steamed, cut and flattened in progressively smaller pieces to cook more quickly.

The real differences between these kinds of oatmeal are their cooking times and textures. Steel-cut takes longest to cook and has a more hearty, chewy texture. Instant oatmeal may seem lower in fibre than the other forms when you check the label information, but that's only because a single packet usually makes a smaller serving. The nutritional disadvantage of instant oatmeal products is not their fibre or wholegrain qualities, but their sodium, sugar and calorie content that is often substantially higher per serving than plain oatmeal.

Information courtesy of American Institute for Cancer Research.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian from at Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, www.creators.com.