The Truth About Sugar Drinks

What do you know about sweetened drinks? You may have heard that they are bad for you, but how bad, and why, and is it true?

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When you think of sugar drinks, you probably think of carbonated sodas like Coca-Cola and 7Up. Those sodas are basically sugar in water with artificial flavorings, acids, and gases to make the bubbles. That doesn’t sound healthy, but did you know that most fruit juices and energy drinks are no better? According to this New York Times article, 12 ounces of orange juice has 9 teaspoons of sugar and 160 calories, about the same as 12 ounces of canned soda.

That 9-teaspoon figure is for pure juice, or 100% juice. Many products marketed as juice, such as Snapple, have even higher concentrations of sugar.

If you think energy drinks might be better, they’re usually worse. According to a report in the UK Daily Mail, about half of energy drinks are as sweet as or sweeter than Coca-Cola, and some contain the equivalent of 20 teaspoons of sugar in one 16-ounce can. The sugar may be in the form of dextrose, a simple sugar like glucose, but these days it’s often made of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Some people think HFCS is worse than plain old sugar, but they both cause your blood sugar to spike.

Health crusaders are treating sugar drinks as Public Enemy #1. Several cities and states have put extra taxes on sugar drinks to limit sales. Since poorer people tend to consume more sweet drinks than wealthier people, this tax is mostly paid by low-income consumers.

But are sugar drinks really that bad for you? Some of the danger may be overstated. Studies show that consuming one 12-ounce can a day of sugary soda or juice increases the risk of getting diabetes or heart disease by about 20%. According to one report, sugar drinks might be responsible for about 130,000 new cases of Type 2 diabetes a year. That’s bad, but it’s out of a total of 1.7 million new cases per year.

In my opinion, that’s really not such a huge increased risk. If you’re healthy and can limit yourself to one can a day (a big “if”), you may have more important things to worry about. On the other hand, a person who goes through a six-pack a day probably needs to change, and the sooner the better.

People who already have diabetes are different. We know our bodies can’t handle sugar. Unless you can accurately dose yourself with insulin before you drink, your sugar will spike. Your cells will be exposed to damaging levels of glucose. Even if you do inject fast-acting insulin, you will be increasing insulin resistance.

Other problems with sugar drinks:

• They fool your system. Our bodies are normally good at keeping track of what we eat. If you eat more calories than you need, you won’t be hungry for a long time. Sugar drinks fool this system. According to Dr. Christopher Ochner, assistant professor of pediatrics and adolescent medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, our bodies don’t recognize calories in liquids as well as those in solid food, so you’ll keep eating more than you need.

• They’re bad for your teeth. Sugar feeds bacteria in the mouth that cause tooth decay, and the added acids in many sugar drinks wear away tooth enamel. In poor families who feed their kids a lot of juice, you sometimes see all of someone’s teeth being lost before they reach 40.

We know that diabetes can be extremely hard on your teeth, so they don’t need the extra burden of sugar drinks.

• Sugar drinks are associated with increased risk of cancer and of dementia. According to this article from the Icelandic site Authority Nutrition, people who drink more sodas also have higher levels of gout, a painful and disabling condition.

• Most sugar drinks have practically zero nutritional value aside from energy. Energy is good, but our bodies need more than that. They need vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other good things. You can get those from plant foods or animal foods, but not from soda or juice.

What do you think? Do you drink fruit juice, sodas, or energy drinks? How do they seem to affect you? Have you tried to stop, and how has that gone for you?

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