Energy balance is the key to weight management for men and women, young or old. For a healthy weight, it's important for adults to balance physical activity (calories out) with food and beverage intake (calories in). While food choices are important, there's increasing evidence that many of us are drinking our way to weight problems, too.

Studies suggest calorie intake from beverages has more than doubled since the 1960s, primarily due to a surge in soft drink, sports drink and sweetened tea consumption. According to the research, we don't balance these increased liquid calories by taking in fewer calories from food or by increasing our physical activity. Over the long run, these additional beverage calories can lead to energy imbalance and weight gain.

So, along with eating smarter and moving more, it's probably time to rethink your drinks if you want to maintain a healthy weight.

Here are four tips for quenching your thirst and maintaining energy balance at the same time.

Water does the body good. Without any unnecessary calories, it helps your muscles and brain stay hydrated for optimal physical and mental performance. How much water you need depends on your size and activity level; larger, more active people need more fluids. Drink enough for your urine to be mostly colorless and odor-free.

Milk isn't just for kids; it's essential for adults too. Nutrient-rich dairy foods help build and maintain healthy bones, teeth and muscle mass. They also may help lower the risk of high blood pressure. For the most nutrients with the least fat and calories, look for fat-free or low-fat options. Research also suggests fat-free milk may be an effective sports drink. Whey protein (high-quality milk protein) in combination with resistance exercise seems to boost the rate at which the body makes lean muscle.

While 100-percent juice can be a great source of several nutrients, it's possible to get too much of a good thing. Whole fruits and vegetables are much better ways to get vitamins, minerals and fluids. Actual food tends to be more satisfying, plus you get the added value of fiber and phytonutrients from the skin and pulp.

Soft drinks, sweetened teas, fruit drinks and most sports and "energy" drinks are loaded with calories and sometimes caffeine. Coffee drinks are often surprisingly high in calories, fat and sugar. Alcoholic drinks are packed with empty calories too. Here are some ways to manage drinks that add extra calories:

â?¢ Be a label reader and nutrition investigator. Check calories, caffeine, sugar and fat before you drink. If the numbers aren't on the label, check the company's website.

â?¢ Steer clear of super-charged "energy" drinks. Do not consume highly caffeinated beverages with alcohol.

â?¢ Choose the smallest sized portion you can buy. Moderation is always a smart way to treat your body well.

This information was submitted by Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital in St. Johnsbury, and is reprinted with permission from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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