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June 2012: Rethink Your Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

01 Jun 2012

Andrea Hartnett, R.D., L.D.N., is a clinical dietitian at Vanguard Weiss Memorial Hospital. Her areas of expertise include clinical and environmental nutrition. She sees patients for diabetes management.

Andrea Hartnett, R.D., L.D.N.
Clinical Dietitian, Coordinator of Clinical Nutrition Services
Vanguard Weiss Memorial Hospital
(773) 564-5920

It is undeniable that there has been increased concern over excessive sugar consumption as highlighted in the press lately. To address this growing concern, Vanguard Weiss Memorial Hospital has changed the beverage lineup in the cafeteria and vending machines. The media spotlight and changes at the hospital are driven by studies that have linked sugar-sweetened beverages to increased obesity rates which can contribute to diabetes, heart disease, bone and joint problems, asthma and even cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 46 percent of added sugars in the American diet come from soda, energy drinks, sports drinks and fruit drinks (1). The majority these drinks are made up of added sugars.

The difference between added and naturally occurring sugar
There is an important distinction to be made between added sugars and naturally occurring sugars. Additional sugars are added during food processing, preparation, or at the table. Examples include high fructose corn syrup in soda, baking cookies with white and/or brown sugar, or adding a spoonful of sugar to cereal. Added sugars are considered empty calories or a non-nutrient dense food.

Naturally occurring sugars are exactly what they sound like: sugars naturally occurring in foods. Examples are lactose in milk and fructose in a piece of fruit. The concentration of added sugars is usually much higher than naturally occurring sugars. One 12-ounce can of soda has approximately 140 calories and about 10 teaspoons of added sugar while one small apple contains 60 calories and 4 teaspoons of natural occurring sugar.

Looking back thousands of years ago when humans were hunters and gatherers, rice, wheat, corn, milk, fruits and vegetables were the major sources of sugars available. Of course, these are classified as naturally occurring sugars and also contain fiber which slows the absorption of sugar into the blood stream.

Many things have changed since then. Most beverages are sweetened with added sugars like high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sugar, etc. Sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, fruit drinks, and juice do not contain fiber, therefore increasing the absorption time of sugar into the blood stream. For example, a 20-ounce soda which has about 16 teaspoons of sugar is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream and in turn spikes blood sugar. Next, the pancreas releases insulin to compensate for the increased blood sugar. The amount of insulin needed to bring down blood sugar is much greater than normal. When sugar-sweetened beverages are consumed in excess, the body tries to compensate and releases larger amounts of insulin, but over time this can result in insulin resistance. When insulin resistance occurs, the body may not be making enough insulin or the insulin it does make is not as effective, resulting in elevated blood sugars and sometimes even diabetes.

To decrease added sugar in your diet, follow these recommendations:

  • The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines added sugars as a food to reduce and the key recommendation is to drink water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • The American Heart Association recommends no more than 450 calories (36 ounces per week) of sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • As a dietitian, I recommend consuming naturally occurring sugars like whole fruit, whole grains, and low fat dairy products as part of a balanced diet.

Beverage/Food Item

Serving Size

Calories

Grams of Sugar

Teaspoons of Sugar

Soda

20 ounces

240

65

~16

Soda

12 ounces

140

39

~10

Energy Drink

16 ounces

200

54

13.5

Sweetened Coffee

9.5 ounces

200

32

8

Sweetened Tea

16 ounces

180

48

12

1% Milk

8 ounces

100

12

3

Fat Free Milk

8 ounces

90

12

3

100% Juice

4 ounces

60

15

~4

Fruit

1 small fruit

60

15

~4

Water

8 ounces

0

0

0

Diet Soda

20,12, or 8 ounces

0

0

0

Diet Soda

20, 12 or 8 ounces

0

0

0


For more information
If you would like more information about healthy nutrition, or would like an appointment regarding proper nutrition and management or prevention of diabetes, please call Andrea Hartnett, R.D., L.D.N., at (773) 564-5920.

Source
(1) National Cancer Institute. National Institutes of Health. Sources of Added Sugars in the Diets of the U.S. Population ages 2 years and older, NHANES 2005-2006. Retrieved from http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/DietaryGuidelines/2010/PolicyDoc/Chapter3.pdf