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Wilburn: Think twice before drinking empty calories
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Farmers market still going strong

My meal tonight, thanks to Mother Nature and our local farmers market, will include fresh zipper cream peas (or maybe purple hull peas), fresh creamed corn, sliced red and yellow tomatoes and for dessert, a big bowl of fresh muscadines and scuppernongs. I'll add last night's leftover chicken stuffed with apples and whole-wheat bagels to round out the meal.

Other produce available at the Hall County Farmers Market includes peppers, okra, squash, green beans, October beans, potatoes, beets and cucumbers. There are also pears and apples coming in, and several farmers also had pumpkins, gourds and dried corn and stalks for sale.

And if you haven't tried creamed honey, come by and get a sample that is locally harvested.

The Hall County Farmers Market is open 6 a.m. to sellout on Tuesdays and 7 a.m. to noon or sellout on Saturdays. It is located at the corner of East Crescent Drive and Jesse Jewell Parkway, near I-985 at exit 24.

Also check out the market from 4 to 7 p.m. Fridays downtown on the Gainesville square.

Have you ever been overwhelmed by the hundreds of choices you have when it comes to beverages? Between sports drinks, vitamin waters, energy drinks or specialty teas, what is the best for your health?

Connie Crawley, a nutrition expert with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, says to be wary of them all; milk and water are still the best thirst quenchers.

Many of those "special drinks" are loaded with calories we don't need. "There is a time and place for some of these drinks, and having one as a lunch beverage is not appropriate," Crawley said.

Here is a rundown of these specialty drinks and their costs and benefits

Sports drinks

Athletes and exercisers who spend more than an hour working out may need a boost of electrolytes from a sports drink.

"A teenage boy practicing football for three hours a day may need a sports drink, but a child riding a bike for an hour does not," Crawley said. "It is not uncommon for an athlete to lose one to two pounds of sweat at practice. This is water weight, and they need to replenish what they've lost. But, they shouldn't continue drinking these salted and sugary beverages for several hours after practice." Even juice is not the best choice. It is easy to consume several hundred calories from juice if you drink more than a small glass. Instead, eat the fruit.

Vitamin water

Vitamin waters and enhanced teas offer extra doses of vitamins and minerals.

"There is a misconception that the more vitamins you get the better," she said. "You need vitamins, but for the most part you can get all you need from what you eat if you eat a balanced diet. For a few nutrients, you can actually get too much."

Fluoridated water is the only mineral water needed. Fluoride helps to build strong teeth and bones. Most bottled water lacks fluoride, so drink water from the tap if your city water is fluoridated. Fluoride supplements are also available from your child's doctor.

Energy boosters

Store shelves offer an array of energy-boosting beverages loaded with caffeine. Once you start drinking these regularly, more is needed over time to feel the boost.

"To increase the effect of these beverages, limit them," Crawley said. "Caffeine is more effective if you drink it only occasionally."

When we take in extra calories through drinks, our brains don't process them like calories from foods, she said. So we don't feel full. We still want to eat the same amount of food, or calories, at our meals and snacks.

"Our bodies are programmed not to metabolize fluid calories the same way as food," Crawley said. "As a method of self preservation, we continue to drink so we don't get dehydrated and die. If fluid calories made us feel full, we might not drink enough to keep us hydrated."

Milk and water

Milk and water are still the best drinks. Adults need about eight 8-ounce glasses of liquid a day. If those come from water and two or three cups of milk, you limit the empty calories going into your body.

In 1994, the average teenager consumed 64.5 gallons of soft drink per year. In 2002, consumption had decreased slightly, but teenagers were still drinking 21 ounces of soda each day and only 11 ounces of milk. Teenage girls were drinking even less milk, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Children, especially girls, need to drink at least 16 ounces to 24 ounces of milk a day. Once a person reaches adulthood, bones store less calcium. So, kids need to build strong bones during their childhood and teenage years, Crawley said.

Set a good example for your kids and give up sodas and specialty drinks. Your children watch what you eat and drink and many times pattern themselves after your eating habits, good or bad. Plus can you imagine how much money you will save on your food bill?

"Cut out 100 calories a day of empty calories from sweet drinks and you will lose 10 pounds a year, as long as you don't add the calories somewhere else," she said. Also look at the nutrition labels. Be aware that some cans and bottles actually hold two to three servings inside. If you drink the whole can or bottle, you will be getting double or triple the calories and sugar listed.

Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Contact: 770-535-8290.