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Patti Milligan

One of the things I love most about being a nutritionist is that the field is constantly building upon our existing knowledge of how food affects a person’s day-to-day performance. In the early days, an equal ratio of calories in to calories out was the gold standard of metabolic efficiency, and we were taught that this gold standard helped us regulate weight control. We’ve since expanded our thinking and realized this concept of metabolic efficiency isn’t so straightforward. In fact, the type of calories we consume (i.e., carbohydrate, fat, and protein), not simply the number of calories, influence our metabolic efficiency more than we ever understood in the past.

One study in particular by Dr. Shannon Casperson and her team really caught my eye because it shows how adding just one sugary drink to a meal has an immediate impact on the way the body metabolizes food. Just one sugar-sweetened drink with a meal decreased the body’s ability to metabolize fat and decreased the energy required to metabolize the meal, which resulted in a surplus of calories (about 1/3 of the meal's calories were not metabolized). Not only did this one drink affect the body immediately, it also increased cravings for salty, sweet, and savory foods hours after eating.

This study creates a unique awareness about how just one drink, such as sweetened tea, soda, etc., can affect how your body processes food both now and in the future. Instead of having that sweet drink on the side, try opting for fruit-infused water, unsweetened green tea, or ginger tea. These options not only have the flavor boost you want from a sweetened drink, they can also increase your metabolic efficiency and alleviate food cravings.

Here are a few fruit-infused water ideas to get you started (we recommend using 4 to 8 cups (1 to 2L) of water for each cup of fruits/vegetables used):

Orange and Blueberry
2 mandarin oranges cut into wedges
1 cup blueberries

Watermelon and Mint
1 cup watermelon
4-8 mint leaves, lightly crushed to release oils

Strawberry, Lime, and Cucumber
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup sliced cucumbers
2 limes, sliced
4-8 fresh mint leaves, lightly crushed to release oils

Mixed Melon
1 cup cantaloupe pieces
1 cup watermelon pieces
1 cup honeydew pieces

Pineapple and Ginger
1 cup fresh pineapple pieces (crushed for a sweeter taste)
1 inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced

At Tignum, we value the idea of combining enjoyment, awareness, and an understanding of the "why" we are eating. Dr. Shannon Casperson's study adds even more knowledge to why we might feel different after having that sugary drink with our meal. I hope this awareness adds to your ability to link what you eat, how you feel, and how you perform. As always, I'd love to hear what you think.

By Patti Milligan
Director of Nutrition