The hidden dangers of sugary drinks
Thursday, August 13, 2015
It’s common knowledge that sugary drinks are bad for you. Nobody touts the health benefits of Coca-Cola®, or the healing properties of Mountain Dew®. However, sugar is hiding in other beverages as well – even seemingly healthy ones.
In fact, fruit juices often contain more sugar per serving than soda. Sugar is even hidden in so-called sports drinks! For example, according to a How Sweet Is It? table created by Harvard University, the sports drink Odwalla® Serious Focus™ Apple Raspberry contains 14 teaspoons of sugar per 12 ounces. That’s four more teaspoons of sugar than in Coca-Cola® Classic! Even Welch’s® 100% Grape Juice, a common non-soda beverage choice for children, contains 15 teaspoons of sugar. The only difference between these beverages nutritionally is the miniscule amount of vitamins and nutrients you may get from fruit juice or sports drinks, whereas soda contains none.
These are striking numbers, especially when you consider that according to the American Heart Association, the suggested maximum daily added sugar limit is only nine teaspoons for men and a mere six teaspoons for women. The effects of these massive amounts of sugar on the body shortly after consuming are even more striking.
The pancreas begins rapidly producing insulin, a hormone that moves sugar to the bloodstream to use as energy. This increased insulin production creates a blood sugar spike, and the liver begins to respond by turning sugar into fat.
After years of continual sugary drinking, drastic effects are present both inside and outside of the body. Tooth decay is common, as is weight gain and eventual obesity. In fact, Harvard researchers have calculated that the odds of becoming obese increased 1.6 times for each additional can or glass of sugar-sweetened soft drink consumed above the daily average.
The impacts inside the body are even more devastating. The risk of developing Type 2 diabetes increases. The same acids that eat away at the teeth devour the bones, leading to increased chances for osteoporosis, and can affect kidney functioning as well. Metabolic syndrome (which leads to higher incidences of heart disease) can also develop due to prolonged consumption of sugary drinks that contain high fructose corn syrup.
Don’t reach for a diet soda either. Although these sodas do not contain any sugar, they still utilize artificial sweeteners to maintain their taste. Research on these sweeteners has thus far been inconclusive due to their relatively recent emergence, but studies have actually shown a strong indication that these artificial sweeteners in diet sodas may actually cause people to consume more calories and gain more weight than regular sodas!
“It’s unfortunate that people are trying to make healthy choices but are confused by ambiguous packaging and misrepresentative labels such as ‘reduced fat’, ‘light’ or ‘skinny’,” stated Matthew A. Schmidt, MD, an Aurora BayCare cardiologist. “Hydration is important, but it’s also important not to ingest empty calories with no attached nutritional value. It’s essentially the same as drinking candy.”
If you already have a sugary drink-a-day habit, you can kick it! One suggestion is to drink a cup of cold water when you feel the urge for a soda, to satiate your thirst. You can also do the math and figure out how long you’ll need to exercise to burn off those calories. Another idea is to mix up a half soda, half water cocktail. This will lead you to drink less soda and cut the sweetness, so your taste buds can adjust.
If you’re a fan of fruit juice, it’s important to look for healthier options as well. The first change to make is to eat the whole fruit. The fruit in its entirety contains fiber, which helps to counteract the sugar. This fiber is removed during the juicing process. You can also use fruit to sweeten your water. Just slice up oranges, cucumber, and even mint and add it to a pitcher of water overnight for a refreshing beverage.
If you are struggling with heart-related complications from the consumption of sugary drinks, set up an appointment with a cardiologist by calling (877) 229-2273. You can also request an appointment here.
Matthew A. Schmidt, MD, is a Board Certified Aurora BayCare cardiologist. Dr. Schmidt completed two fellowships: one in cardiovascular disease and the other in interventional cardiovascular disease. His areas of special interest are coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular disease and structural heart disease. Learn more here.