Sugar-Sweetened Beverages: What are they and why should you avoid them?

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January 31st, 2013

Sugary drinks: Why and how you should limit them in your diet

Have you been looking for an easy way to eliminate excess calories from your diet?  Depending on your favorite thirst-quenching choices, cutting down on soft drinks or sugary drinks may be one simple way to do this.  Many of us may have heard stories from parents or grandparents about the good-ole-days when having a soda at the local soda fountain was a special weekend afternoon treat.  However nowadays, many Americans consume soda as part of their daily routine, a habit that is contributing to the ever expanding obesity epidemic and to the related health problems of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer.

What are sugary drinks?

It’s pretty simple, a sugary drink is one that has a sugar added to it which does not occur naturally in the beverage.  For example, soft drinks, such as Coke or Pepsi are in this category.  Sweetened teas, coffee drinks such as Starbucks Frapuccino, energy drinks like Monster Energy, and sports drinks like Gatorade are also included.  Juices that are 100% juice, such as Tropicana orange juice, even though they also contain calories, are not considered to be in this category.  However, there are certainly juice drinks on the market that have added sugar and therefore count.  They would be indicated by ingredients label such as: sugar, evaporated cane juice, and high fructose corn syrup.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the average sugary drink contains about 150 calories, almost all of which comes from sugar sources, usually high fructose corn syrup – the same as 10 tablespoons of sugar with each beverage.  People often don’t realize how many calories they are consuming with these drinks.  The problem with consuming these liquid calories is that the body does not feel full like it does after eating food.  The body registers fullness with eating solid food, and naturally regulates hunger.  Sugary drinks, however, don’t have this same effect, and will cause the calories (and pounds) to keep mounting.
glass of water

Mayor Menino and the Boston Public Health Commission have recently developed an initiative called “Stop. Rethink Your Drink. Go Green“, guidelines on what kind of beverages are healthy to drink.  Green light (drink plenty) drinks are those recommended for healthy consumption and include water, sparkling water, fat-free milk, and unsweetened soy milk.   Yellow light drinks (okay to drink occasionally) include 100% juice, diet sodas or low sugar drinks, and red light (drink rarely if at all) includes regular sodas, energy or sports drinks and fruit drinks.  This initiative is displayed on signs in BMC cafeterias.
For those of you interested in weight loss, the BMC DASH for Health Program has some useful advice:  If you are frequent consumer of soft drinks you may have an easy way to lose weight. By decreasing your caloric intake by 500 calories per day (the amount in two 20-ounce sodas) you will lose 1 pound per week.  Imagine, after 3 months you could lose 12 pounds, just by drinking water instead of soda!

The Centers for Disease Control has a useful tool to see how many calories are in commonly consumed beverages, some of which may be sneaking their ways into your day: CDC rethink_your_drink.

By Jonathan Berz, MD MSc
Section of General Internal Medicine
Adult Primary Care- Shapiro Practice

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