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Stop Drinking Sugar-Sweetened Soda

Why Sugary Drinks are Bad and Tips for Cutting Down

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Updated March 21, 2011

Soda with Sugar

Most 12 oz. cans of soda contain 10 teaspoons of sugar.

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images
There's no doubt about it - consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has skyrocketed in recent decades, particularly in the United States. What was once an occasional treat has become a normal part of the diet for many in the U.S., with some estimates as high as 8% of daily calories coming from soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages.

Why Not Drink Sodas and Sugary Drinks?

There is increasing evidence overconsumption of these drinks is associated with weight gain, insulin resistance, and diabetes. Many studies have shown that drinking sugary drinks doesn't depress the appetite as much as food containing the same number of calories.

How Much Sugar is in Soda and Other Soft Drinks?

Sugar-sweetened soda, fruit drinks, sweetened iced teas, and other beverages with added sugar usually contain about 6 or 7 teaspoons of sugar in each cup of drink. A 12 oz. can of regular (not diet) soda has about 10 teaspoons of sugar in it. This is about the same as the total added sugars the USDA recommends that the average person consume in a whole day. People with diabetes and related disorders should almost certainly consume much less.

What are Added Sugars?

There are a lot of ingredients which mean "sugar" - everything from high fructose corn syrup to "evaporated cane juice". Most of them are about half fructose and half glucose. Fructose in an of itself may be related to such problems as weight gain, high blood triglycerides, and diabetes. Added sugars are in most processed foods, from obviously sweet foods (cookies, candies, etc.) to ketchup to crackers. However, it's hard to think of any other food that will deliver as much sugar to our bodies as quickly as sugary drinks.

What About Sports Drinks?

The ads would have you believe that active, healthy people should drink sports drinks to keep them active and healthy! However did we get along without them before? We got along without them because for the most part we do not need them! (Very heavy exercisers can benefit from some of the ingredients in sports drinks, though.) Sports drinks are made of water, sugar, flavorings, sodium, and potassium. You can get exactly the same amount of sodium and potassium by adding 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and a small pinch of salt to a cup of water.

What About Juice?

If drinking a lot of drinks with added sugars is bad, what about juice, which only contains natural sugars? Although most juices have about the same amount of sugar as soda, some fruit juices do have some benefits. Some things to think about:

- When a fruit is squeezed for juice, many valuable nutrients are often left behind. Fiber is always removed, and often vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients are as well. Apple juice has only a small fraction of the nutrients in the original apple - it is essentially not much different than sugar water. Moral: Eat the fruit.

- Juices with the least amount of sugar are tomato, vegetable, and cranberry (though usually quite a lot of sugar is added to cranberry juice - "diet" cranberry juice has no added sugar, but "light" cranberry juice as some added sugar, and regular cranberry juice "cocktail" has lots of sugar).

- The juices with the least nutritional value are apple, white grape, and pear. Note that these are often used to create "100% juice blends" with other juices. In concentrate form, they are sometimes used as "natural" sugar substitutes, although they are pretty much the same as sugar.

- Juices with the most nutritional value include orange juice, purple grape juice, cranberry juice, tomato juice, and vegetable juices. Since orange and grape juice are so sugary, try diluting with plain or sparkling water.

What To Drink Instead

If you drink sugar-sweetened drinks on a regular basis, finding alternatives could be the best single diet change you can make. But what can you drink instead? Water is the obvious and best choice, but the idea of going "cold turkey" to only drinking water is too big a change for some. Although there are arguments against diet soda, it is almost certainly better than the sugar-sweetened kind. There are also flavored sparkling waters on the market, or flavor your water or sparkling water with mint, fruit, etc. Here are more ideas for alternatives to sugar-sweetned beverages.

What is your favorite sugar-free beverage? Contribute your suggestion below!
Sources:
  • Malik, V.S., Popkin, B.M., et al (2010). "Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Risk of Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes: A meta-analysis". Diabetes Care 33(11):2477-2483
  • Malik, V.S.; Schulze, M.B.; Hu, F.B. (2006). "Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain: a systematic review". American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 84 (2): 274–28.
  • Schulze, M.B.; Manson, J.A.E.; Ludwig, D.S.; Colditz, G.A.; Stampfer, M.J.; Willet, W.C.; Hu, F.B. (2004). "Sugar-sweetened beverages, weight gain, and incidence of type 2 diabetes in young and middle aged women.". Journal of the American Medical Association 292 (8): 927–934
  • USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 21.
  • Vartanian, L.R.; Schwartz, M.B.; Brownell, K.D. (2007). "Effects of soft drink consumption on nutrition and health: a systematic review and meta-analysis". American Journal of Public Health 97 (4): 667–675.
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