Rethink Your Drink

We talked about eating real, now to drinking real!  According to a report released by the CDC in August 2011, the average American drinks 1 soda or sugary beverage a day.  The other day as I entered the elevator with a woman carrying a can of Coke, I was hoping and praying that she wasn’t drinking it with her breakfast. It wouldn’t be far fetched as at least 1 in 20 people drinks the equivalent of more than four cans of soda each day (I suppose you can get an extra head start at breakfast). If you are that 1 in 20, no worries, because you’re journey has to begin somewhere!!!

Health officials recommend that sugary beverage intake should be reduced to less than a can a day.  Convert the grams of sugar that’s in a typical 12-ounce can of soda and it’s like drinking 10 teaspoons of sugar, meanwhile a 20-ounce bottle is a delicious 16 teaspoons of sugar. Need some visual imagery, check out the alarming video below.

Although a bit over the top, it‘s shockingly somewhat true biologically (I say somewhat because I would argue that the sweetener in soda–high fructose corn syrup–is not exactly biologically comparable to sugar…stay tuned for that topic of discussion). You’re not just ingesting tons of sugar in soda, however, but also an array of beverages that some may consider healthier. Snapple and Gatorade, for example, fall into the category of sugary beverages.  One 16-ounce (2 servings) bottle of Snapple’s juice drink contains 14 teaspoons of sugar.  You’d be drinking the same amount of sugar if you drank the entire 32-ounce bottle of Gatorade.  Even Snapple’s 100% juice contains 10 teaspoons of sugar.  And although you’re also getting vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals along with those 10 teaspoons of sugar, you are better off eating the real, fiber-rich piece of fruit.  

Feel free to do the math on beverages that you drink. Four grams of sugar is equivalent to 1 tsp of sugar (4 g sugar = 1 tsp sugar).  Soda and other sugary beverages, such as iced teas, sports drinks, and energy drinks, are known as empty calories–plenty of calories to pour on the pounds (and disease!), while void of nutrients that the body needs.   

For those diet-beverage drinkers out there, I hate to break the news to you (although I’m sure some of you may have already heard this), but you may want to think otherwise, the next time you go for an artificially-sweetened diet soda or diet tea.  The safety of these artificial sweeteners is questionable and if you’re drinking these products for the purpose of losing weight, this too is questionable (see article).  An old personal training client of mine actually lost weight after he cut out his 0-calorie beverage of choice, Diet Pepsi.  

Artificial sweeteners–such as aspartame (Equal), sucralose (Splenda), and rebaudioside A (Stevia)–which are used to sweeten diet beverages, are all considered GRAS according to the Food and Drug Administration.  GRAS means Generally Recognized As Safe aka this is a way for us (the FDA) to protect our @&! because we’re not sure what the data may show in the future (more on GRAS foods later!).  As some of you may recall, in some studies, the chemical compound in Sweet‘N Low (saccharin) has been shown to induce bladder cancer in rats.  Meanwhile, a 1970’s study suggested aspartame caused brain tumors in rats. Although strong data have yet to find similar results in humans (and are in fact difficult to test given ethical standards), the safety of these products are not definitive enough for the FDA to lift its GRAS identification.  Alarmingly, in fact, a 2008 cohort study based out of Argentina found that regular use of artificial sweeteners was positively associated with urinary tract tumors. Other studies have suggested similar results and I wouldn’t be surprised if more unbiased data is released in the future. I don’t want to be the guinea pig on these population-wide experiments and I’m writing this passionately, because I don’t think it’s morally right for you to be either!!!

With growing disease and obesity rates paralleling the increased intake of empty calories from sugary beverages, this is just one more reason to rethink your drink and drink more water.

Check out this other creative and alarming commercial created in promotion of the New York City Department of Health’s anti-soda campaign.

For more motivation on rethinking your drink, see the NYC Department of Health’s fact sheet on sugary beverages, as well as their informative “Pouring on the Pounds” flyer.  It’s time to drink real!!!

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