Alexander B. Simon
ITT Technical Institute
Better beverage choices can help fight and prevent obesity and diabetes. Water, of course, is the best beverage option. It delivers everything the body needs—pure H2O—with zero calories. But for some tastes, plain water is just too plain—and it may be unrealistic to ask everyone to kick the sugar-water habit overnight. We must instead work to retrain the American palate away from sweet drinks. Cutting our taste for sweetness will require concerted action on several levels—from creative food scientists and marketers in the beverage industry, as well as from individual consumers and families, schools and worksites, and state and federal government. Sugary Drinks or Diet Drinks? What’ the Best Choice?
Soft drinks are the beverage of choice for millions of Americans. Some drink them morning, noon, night, and in between. They’re tasty, available everywhere, and inexpensive. They’re also a prime source of extra calories that can contribute to weight gain. Once thought of as innocent refreshment, soft drinks are also coming under scrutiny for their contributions to the development of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions. Diet soft drinks, made with artificial sweeteners, may not be the best alternatives to regular soft drinks.
The term “soft drink” covers a lot of ground. It refers to any beverage with added sugar or other sweetener, and includes soda, fruit punch, lemonade and other “ades,” sweetened powdered drinks, and sports and energy drinks. In this section of The Nutrition Source, we focus on non-alcoholic sweetened drinks.
Drunk every now and then, these beverages wouldn’t raise an eyebrow among most nutrition experts, any more than does the occasional candy bar or bowl of ice cream. But few people see them as treats. Instead, we drink rivers of the stuff.
According to figures from the beverage industry, soft drink makers produce a staggering 10.4 billion gallons of sugary soda pop each year. That’s enough to serve every American a 12-ounce can every day, 365 days a year.
The average can of sugar-sweetened soda or fruit punch provides about 150 calories, almost all of them from sugar, usually high-fructose corn syrup. That’s the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of table sugar (sucrose). If you were to drink just one can of a sugar-sweetened soft drink every day, and not cut back on calories elsewhere, you could gain up to 15 pounds in a year. Soft Drinks and Weight
Historians may someday call the period between the early 1980s and 2009 the fattening of America. Between 1985 and now, the proportion of Americans who are overweight or obese has ballooned from 45 percent in the mid-1960s to 66 percent today. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an online slide show that shows the spread of obesity in the U.S.) There’s no single cause for this increase; instead, there are many contributors. One of them is almost certainly our penchant for quenching our thirst with beverages other than water.
Once upon a time, humans got almost all of their calories from what nature put into food. That changed with the advent of cheap sugar, and then cheaper high-fructose corn syrup. High-fructose corn syrup has been fingered as one of the villains in the obesity epidemic, but in fact, table sugar and corn sweeteners likely have the same physiological impact on blood sugar, insulin, and metabolism. Sugar added to food now accounts for nearly 16 percent of the average American’s daily intake. Sweetened soft drinks make up nearly half of that.
Dozens of studies have explored possible links between soft drinks and weight. It isn’t an easy task, for several reasons (read Sorting Out Studies on Soft Drinks and Weight to learn why). Despite these research challenges, studies consistently show that increased consumption of soft drinks is associated with increased energy intake. In a...