March 07, 2006
American adults consume an estimated 21 percent of their daily calories from beverages – twice as much as the 10 percent 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 that 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.

Dr. Barry M. Popkin

Dr. Barry M. Popkin

“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,” said Dr. Barry M. Popkin, who is a professor of nutrition, a department housed in UNC’s schools of public health and medicine. He also directs 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 recommends that people should drink more water and limit or eliminate high-calorie beverages with little or no nutrition value. The panel members have grouped beverages into six categories and recommend a range of how much in each category people should drink daily.

  • Water: At least four servings of water for women and at least six servings for men are recommended. All beverage needs could come from water if desired.
  • Unsweetened coffee and tea, iced and hot: Up to eight servings a day of tea and up to four servings of coffee are recommended.
  • Nonfat or 1 percent fat milk and fortified soy beverages: Up to two servings are recommended.
  • Diet beverages with sugar substitutes: Up to four servings are recommended.
  • One-hundred-percent fruit and vegetable juices, whole milk, sports drinks: Up to one serving total is recommended.
  • Calorically sweetened soft drinks and fruit drinks without nutrients: Up to one serving is recommended – less if trying to lose weight.

“Some of these beverages, like nonfat milk, provide essential nutrients,” Popkin said. “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 four and eight ounces of fruit juice should be consumed daily. While juice contains important nutrients, it also contains significant calories, the panel reported.

Also, the panel recommends limiting caffeine intake to 400 milligrams per day (about 32 ounces of coffee or double that for tea). Tea and coffee represent healthy alternatives to water for those who prefer flavored beverages, Popkin said. “The good news is that making healthy beverage choices doesn’t mean giving up taste,” he added. Members of the Beverage Guidance Panel are global leaders in obesity, nutrition and chronic disease research and have led or been parts of the recent Institute of Medicine Dietary Guidelines. They are:

  • Dr. Lawrence E. Armstrong, professor in the Human Performance Laboratory, department of kinesiology, University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education;
  • Dr. George Bray, Boyd professor and chief of the Division of Clinical Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center;
  • Dr. Benjamin Caballero, professor of international health and director of the Center for Human Nutrition at Johns Hopkins University;
  • Dr. Balz Frei, professor in the department of biochemistry and biophysics and director and endowed chair of the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University; and
  • Dr. Walter C. Willett, Fredrick John Stare professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Their conclusions were based on a systematic review of literature on beverages and health. A meeting in Boston, in addition to a long set of discussions during six months, led to the final panel report.

The meeting of the Beverage Guidance Panel in Boston was funded by the Unilever Health Institute; however, the institute had no power to influence or veto decisions and did not attempt to make changes to the recommendations issued by the panel. More information about the Healthy Beverage Guidelines, including the report, is available at


Note: Contact Popkin at or 919-966-1732.

UNC News Services contact: Deb Saine, 919-962-8415 or

For further information please contact Ramona DuBose either by phone at 919-966-7467 or by e-mail at


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