Drink Up to Slim Down?

By Sally Squires
Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Earlier this month, the federal government imposed stiff fines on some well-known marketers of weight loss pill for deceptive marketing. Now, there are signs of concern about the marketing of other products that appear to promote weight loss. A new green tea beverage is drawing sharp criticism from scientists and from a consumer group that says the drink's promotional material implies that it could help with weight loss.

Enviga -- a green tea beverage supplemented with calcium and caffeine -- has been test-marketed in Philadelphia and New York since October. A joint venture of Coca-Cola and Nestle S.A., Enviga is slated to be sold nationwide in early February. A 12-ounce can is expected to cost between $1.29 and $1.49, according to Coca-Cola.

Enviga has five calories per can, according to its makers. It provides 90 milligrams of green tea extract, known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), as well as caffeine and 20 percent of the daily value for calcium. That's a combination that is "proven to burn calories," its makers say on their Web site.

How many calories? That's under debate. There's limited research on the calorie-burning effects of EGCG and caffeine. There's also little, if anything, to show that consuming these substances translates into actual weight loss, since most studies have been small and short-term.

Take the company-funded research presented in October at the annual meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity (NAASO). It found that drinking about three cans of Enviga daily boosted metabolism by about 100 calories. "When consumed regularly as part of a healthy diet and exercise regime, such a beverage may provide added benefits to help in weight control," the team concluded.

But the experiment lasted just three days and involved 32 people, a sampling that scientists would consider small. And all participants were either lean or of normal weight. Whether Enviga would have the same effect on overweight or obese people is not known.

NAASO was concerned enough that the researchers went too far in their conclusions that it issued a statement on the findings: "It is improper to state or imply that the results of this study support any weight loss or any statement related to this."

These scientists aren't the only ones concerned that Enviga might boost hopes for weight loss. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, has threatened legal action to stop Coca-Cola from marketing and promoting Enviga as a calorie burner.

"The implication is that this will help you lose weight," says the center's executive director, Michael Jacobson. "The effect of these ingredients on weight is trivial. . . . We have told Coca-Cola that if they don't stop making these claims we will sue them."

Ray Crockett, a spokesman for Coca-Cola, said that "we have worked very hard to get across the point that we are not presenting Enviga as a weight-loss product. We've said quite the opposite. It is not a magic bullet. It is a small step that a person can take in conjunction with a sensible diet and regular exercise to help maintain a healthy lifestyle."

As the obesity epidemic rages on, Enviga illustrates a growing interest in beverages and the role they may play in body weight.

When most people think about calories, they consider food, not drink. Yet beverages now account for about 20 percent of daily calories consumed by those 2 and older, according to Barry M. Popkin, director of the Interdisciplinary Obesity Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"When did we start to drink anything other than water and [as babies] breast milk?" asks Popkin, co-author of a system to help consumers make smarter choices about beverages. "We didn't even have many caloric beverages 150 years ago, except a little bit of beer and a little bit of alcohol. We're really talking about a new addition to the human race."

That addition is often loaded with calories. Research suggests that at least half the excess calories consumed by Americans are sipped or swilled, not eaten. From 1977 to 2001, U.S. consumption of just two popular beverages -- juice and soft drinks -- nearly tripled, going from an average intake of 50 calories per day to nearly 155 calories. That increase could be enough to gain 15 pounds per year.

What's more, the brain doesn't seem to register liquid calories as accurately as calories that are chewed, and it doesn't send satiety signals to stop consumption of other food.

Why? "We don't know," says Barbara Rolls, professor of nutrition at Pennsylvania State University. "Hunger and thirst are controlled by separate mechanisms. At what point does food become a beverage or beverage a food? We don't know."

Knowing the smartest ways to quench your thirst without widening your waistline can be confusing. Here are a few ways to make your favorite beverages -- and perhaps you -- a little skinnier:

· Love your latte ? A 16-ounce latte with whole milk packs 260 calories. Even a skim latte contains 160 calories. Choose a skim cafe au lait the same size and shave 70 more calories. Or have a skim 16-ounce cappuccino, which has just 100 calories.

· Sip only unsweetened fruit juice. Limit to four ounces per day. Want more? Stretch those four ounces by adding it to sparkling water.

· Switch from 2 percent milk to skim. Doing just that saves 42 calories per eight ounces.

· Drink water, not sports drinks, for workouts. Unless you exercise for an hour or more, you don't need to replace sodium and other electrolytes lost through sweating.

· Green tea isn't always low-calorie. A grande Starbucks Blackberry Green Tea Frappuccino Blended Creme Whip has 560 calories and 15 grams of fat. Better choice: a large mug of green tea with a dab of honey and lemon. Calories: 20 to 30, depending on how much honey you use.

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