If, like so many of us, you're trying to shed pounds, you're probably accustomed to watching what you drink as well as what you eat. You may shun a glass of wine with your meal on the grounds that it will stimulate you to eat more. And you may sweeten your morning coffee with saccharin instead of sugar to save calories.
Surprisingly, new research on both alcohol and saccharin challenges some assumptions underlying both those steps and casts light on the complex issue of appetite. According to these studies, consuming alcohol will not prompt you to overeat. And using saccharin, although saving 18 calories for every teaspoon of sugar not added, won't necessarily end up lowering your caloric bill.At Georgia State University, Dr. John M. de Castro and his colleagues have been monitoring the relationship of various factors to spontaneous meal patterns. Their report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examining how moderate alcohol intake influenced eating habits, drew on data from numerous studies as well as in-depth information gathered from 92 men and women who kept track of everything they had eaten and drunk over the course of a week.
The 32 subjects who did not drink were grouped together. The others were split into the "low-alcohol" and "moderate-alcohol" consumption groups. All groups were comparable in weight, height, age and gender. The study's findings showed that the no-alcohol group took in an average of 1,879 calories a day, the low-alcohol group 2,026, and the moderate-alcohol group, 2,174. Both for individuals and for groups as a whole, significantly more total calories were ingested on days when alcoholic beverages were included. These extra calories generally did not come from more food, but from the alcohol itself.
This study indicated that low-to-moderate alcohol ingestion has little impact on intake of other nutrients. Unlike the case of many alcoholics, the alcohol did not displace calories from other sources. Non-drinkers and drinkers ate similar amounts, and drinkers ate about the same amount on days when they did and didn't drink.
So if you want to lower your caloric intake, cutting alcohol out of your diet is certainly a good strategy. On the other hand, this research also suggests that having a glass of wine with your meal won't stimulate your appetite and cause you to eat more. Your only worry will be the calories from the wine itself - usually around 80 per 3 1-2 ounces. If you build those calories into your caloric budget, you can have an occasional glass without overspending your allowance.
The saccharin research - four related studies - was done with rats as subjects, and explored the effect of the sweetener on short-term food intake. Dr. M.G. Tordoff and M.I. Friedman fed rats two differently flavored foods with water or one of four "beverages": a saccharin, salt, glucose or almond-extract solution. In a test that followed, the rats were given the choice of two foods.
Results showed that rats preferred foods given previously with either saccharin or glucose, but ate more when saccharin had been used. Combining a food with a sweet flavor was enough to create a preference for it; but only with saccharin did food intake increase.
We're not telling you to avoid artificial sweeteners (they can be very useful), but just to bear in mind this potential effect on your eating pattern. For would-be dieters, the same truth always applies: Whether you get them from food or from wine, total calories do count.
And to lose weight, you must burn more than you take in.