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No way to sugarcoat unhealthy drinks

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT

According to the current USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, one way that we can improve our diet is to drink water instead of sugary drinks. Sugary drinks or sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB’s) are those to which sugar has been added. Included are soda, other carbonated soft drinks, juice drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened milk or milk alternatives, and sweetened tea or coffee drinks.

Why the focus on sugary beverages? Several long-term studies have shown a relationship between consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and obesity among children and adults. The added sugars in these drinks provide no nutritional benefit to our diet; they just add calories that most of us can do without. 

Check out the nutrition label on a can or bottle of regular soda. Sugar content is listed in grams. A gram sounds like a very small unit of measurement. Most of us do not know our metric system as well as we should, but there are 4 grams of sugar in a teaspoon. When you do the math, it may surprise you to find that a 12-ounce can of regular soda contains more than 10 teaspoons of sugar.

Are you a lover of coffee drinks? I know I am. But the 16-ounce peppermint mocha drink as offered by a famous coffee purveyor contains 61 grams or 15 teaspoons of sugar.

SSB’s affect our wallets as well as our waistlines. According to a report conducted by the Nielsen Company at the end of 1997, Americans spent $17.6 billion on carbonated soft drinks alone that year. In fact, carbonated soft drinks are the most heavily consumed packaged food in America. The famous coffee purveyor I mentioned earlier had gross revenues of $13.3 billion last fiscal year, according to their most recent income statement.  

Water is the smart alternative to sugary drinks. Water is free of calories and free of charge if you drink it from the tap. And water really is the best way to hydrate your body. Most people, even athletes, do not need a sports drink unless they are exercising vigorously for long periods of time, meaning 90 minutes or more. 

How much water should you drink? Common wisdom says 8 glasses a day, but let thirst be your guide. Everyone’s needs are different. You may want to be sure to drink more if you are very active, live or work in hot conditions, or are an older adult. 

The next time you are thirsty, have a glass of water and congratulate yourself for how thrifty, healthy, and smart you are being because that’s free, too!

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