Coffee loverAs someone dedicated to healthy eating and organic living, how does your beverage intake compare to the average American’s?

American adults consume an estimated 21% of their daily calories from beverages—twice as much as the 10% recommended by the World Health Organization.

The Beverage Guidance Panel, initiated and led by a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill professor, wants to reverse this trend and help people understand how to choose healthy beverages as part of a balanced nutritional diet. The group has developed the first Healthy Beverage Guidelines, which appear in the March issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“Many people either forget or don’t realize how many extra calories they consume in what they drink, yet beverages are a major contributor to the alarming increase in obesity,” says Dr. Barry M. Popkin, a professor of nutrition and director of the UNC Interdisciplinary Obesity Program. “The Healthy Beverage Guidelines will show Americans the impact that liquid calories have on their overall diets and help them make responsible beverage choices.”

The group urges people to drink more water and limit or eliminate high-calorie beverages with little or no nutrition value. Panel members have grouped beverages into six categories and recommend a daily consumption range:

  • Water: At least 4 servings for women, at least 6 servings for men. All beverage needs could come from water, if desired.
  • Unsweetened Coffee and Tea (Iced and Hot): Up to 8 servings of tea, up to 4 servings of coffee
  • Nonfat Milk, 1% Fat Milk, Fortified Soy Beverages: Up to 2 servings
  • Diet Beverages With Sugar Substitutes: Up to 4 servings
  • 100% Fruit and Vegetable Juices, Whole Milk, Sports Drinks: Up to 1 serving (total)
  • Calorically Sweetened Soft Drinks, Fruit Drinks Without Nutrients: Up to 1 serving, less if trying to lose weight

“Some of these beverages, like nonfat milk, provide essential nutrients,” Dr. Popkin says. “People, especially children and adolescents, should drink the recommended amounts every day.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPyramid guidelines for food intake recommend three servings per day of low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, cheese or other foods made from milk that retain their calcium content. The one or two servings of low-fat or fat-free milk recommended by the panel also count as one or two servings of milk under the MyPyramid guidelines.

The panel recommends that only between 4 and 8 ounces of fruit juice should be consumed daily. While juice contains important nutrients, it also contains significant calories, the panel reports.

The panel also recommends limiting caffeine intake to 400 mg per day (about 32 oz. of coffee or double that for tea). Tea and coffee represent healthy alternatives to water for those who prefer flavored beverages, Dr. Popkin says.

“The good news is that making healthy beverage choices doesn’t mean giving up taste,” he says.