What do you reach for when you are thirsty? Is it a cold soda? An energy drink to get you through the afternoon? Or as many people do around here in Kentucky, a nice tall cup of sweet tea? Did you ever stop to think about what’s in your drink? Are those artificial colors and flavors, the amount of caffeine and the sugar (most often as high fructose corn syrup) really good for you? When you look at the numbers on the label is it really all that bad? What’s wrong with a little sugar in your drink?
This post gives a great summary of what happens when that 20oz of soda hits your body. That 20oz of soda has about the equivalent of ⅓ of a cup of sugar. Would you ever just sit down and eat ⅓ of a cup of sugar? And sometimes the drinks that look the healthiest may have the most sugar. Many fruit smoothies have more sugar than 10 glazed doughnuts!
Now I imagine my diet soda drinking readers are feeling good about their no sugar choice but not so fast! It’s well documented that drinking diet soda is correlated with increased risks of metabolic syndromes and cardiovascular disease.
So how about a nice glass of wholesome juice? It’s natural and can have good nutrients in it if you get the kind without added sugars, so it must be good, right? The key is how much. All fruit is high in fructose but when you eat the whole fruit you get the fiber with it which modulates its effect. Fruit juice is a straight shot of fructose and unlike glucose which can be used by every cell in the body, fructose can only be processed in the liver. Fructose is taken straight to the liver where it is metabolized into free fatty acids (FFAs), VLDL (the damaging form of cholesterol), and triglycerides, which get stored as fat. When you eat 120 calories of glucose, less than one calorie is stored as fat. 120 calories of fructose results in 40 calories being stored as fat. Turns out those little juice glasses used by your grandparents and great-grandparents were about the right size for a healthy serving of juice and more is not better.
So what’s with all these sugars and why do we care? When fructose combines with glucose, it makes sucrose. Sucrose is abundant in sugar cane, sugar beets, corn, and other plants. When extracted and refined, sucrose makes table sugar. “In the 1800s and early 1900s, the average American took in about 15 grams of fructose (about half an ounce), mostly from eating fruits and vegetables. Today we average 55 grams per day (73 grams for adolescents). The increase in fructose intake is worrisome, says Lustig, because it suspiciously parallels increases in obesity, diabetes, and a new condition called the nonalcoholic fatty liver disease that now affects up to one-third of Americans.”
And it turns out for many people there are two main sources of fructose and glucose in our diets: processed foods (even those that aren’t sweet like canned soup) and drinks. This means options for a healthy drink when eating out are often limited to water or unsweetened iced tea. So what to drink? Time to explore the wonderful world of teas and tisanes - which will be in our next article!