By Jennifer Lee, DO, MPH
Sugary soda drinks were originally sold in pharmacies at “soda fountains”. They were touted as health aids that had “mineral water” flavored with herbs, spices and fruit extracts. Now they are made of mostly chemicals and sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup and have less nutrient value than their “soda fountain” predecessors. American consumption of sodas has doubled over the past 30 years.
Of course, now we have more than just sodas. We have flavored water, sports drinks, and sugary frappucinos. There is sugar everywhere in our drinks. The biggest problem with drinking sugary drinks (whether flavored with sugar or high fructose corn syrup) is that the extra calories consumed not only add to weight gain, they also rob you of nutrient dense calories. You can drink 100 calories of a sugary soda or you can eat 100 calories of a vegetable soup. The vegetable soup will provide much more nutrition in one serving than a sugary soda, but the calories consumed are the same. Not only are sugary drinks taking the place of more nutrient calories, it also changes the way your body is processing calories and can promote more cholesterol production. The amount of sugary drinks consumed can predict the degree of obesity in the future. And it’s not just about obesity. Recently there was a study showing that with every 12oz sugary beverage consumed increased the risk of heart disease in men.
But, are all sugary drinks horrible for you? An occasional ginger ale or root beer made with real cane sugar or even a “spritzer” where you dilute a sugary drink (with natural sweeteners and flavors) with sparkling water is better than drinking an artificially flavored and colored drink. Using artificial sweeteners does cut down the calories consumed, but also puts you at risk of other things such as headaches, cancer and strokes. So that is not a great alternative. Energy drinks, though some claim to be “healthy”, contain a crazy amount of caffeine that can affect your sleep and blood pressure. Sometimes real sugar may be a better alternative beverage, but you have to watch how much you drink.
Water is the best drink you can have, usually filtered. Teas come in a variety of flavors and can be made from tea leaves, herbs as well as fruits. Andrew Weil says to drink a variety of different teas- white, green and black- to gain their variable health benefits. Coffee has been shown to decrease diabetes in some populations and does contain antioxidants. You can even have a serving of freshly made “juice” from fruits and vegetables at home with a juicer and no added sugar. Even wine and beer in moderation (1 serving for women and 2 servings for men) have the added benefit of decreasing cholesterol in some people. If you are pregnant, consult your physician before drinking herbal teas and avoid alcohol completely. We do not have good information that drinks with stevia are safe, so generally avoid beverages with chemicals, artificial sweeteners. Coconut water is a more natural recovery drink and can be used to replenish after heavy exercise more than an hour. Next time when you raise your glass, choose your drink wisely!