Sugar Sweetened Beverages: The Not-So-Sweet Truth

As the health industry expands, people have been more conscious with their food consumption. Healthier food choices and snacks have been hitting grocery shelves, and restaurants are beginning to incorporate more healthful foods. However, one may grab beverages and soft drinks off that grocery shelf without thinking twice about the amount of added sugars.

Sugar-sweetened beverages are drinks with added sugars. This includes soft drinks, flavored juices, sports drink, smoothies, sweetened teas, coffee, energy drinks, and electrolyte replacement drinks (1). White sugar, cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup are all commonly added sweeteners. If you are not careful, the calories from these beverages may contribute to weight gain while providing little to no nutritional value. There is also increased risks of tooth decay, obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes (1).

Our bodies process liquid sugar differently than natural sugar in foods with fiber. When we eat an apple, we may be getting around 18 grams of sugar, but the sugar is “packaged” with fiber. It takes time for our bodies to digest that fiber, so the sugar is slowly released into our bloodstream, giving us a sustained source of energy (3). When we drink the same amount of sugar from drinks, it does not include the fiber. This leads to sugar being absorbed quickly into our bloodstream, which may eventually lead to serious health problems (3).

So, what can you do? Pay attention to what you are drinking. There are many beverages that claim to be packed with healthful ingredients but are often loaded with sugar. Some beverages contain labels with words such as “natural,” “pure,” or “organic” to appeal more to consumers. A beverage labeled “naturally sweetened” does not make it a healthful choice. If you find it difficult to make a change, cut back slowly.

Ways to make smarter beverage choices:

  • Choose water over sugar-sweetened beverages.

  • If possible, ask for half-sweetened or unsweetened drinks at restaurants.

  • Make your fruit smoothies with unsweetened almond milk, coconut water, or plain water instead of sugar-sweetened juices.

  • Use unsweetened milk or a low-calorie sweetener in your coffee.

  • Make your own unsweetened tea at home with tea bags. If desired, add a half a tablespoon of pure honey.

  • Make your own infused water by adding slices of lemon, cucumber, strawberries, or mint.


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