Sugar Sweetened Beverages

By Gia Diakakis, MS, RD, LDN, CNSC

As a pediatric dietitian, discussing sugary drinks makes me feel like I am on my soapbox. As a child who was only allowed to consume sugar-sweetened beverages for celebrations, my frustration with my parents has now turned into gratitude. I admit I often am too “preachy” when it comes to sugar sweetened beverages, but I can’t help myself. There are absolutely NO health or nutritional benefits in allowing your children (or yourself!) to regularly consume sugar sweetened beverages.

According to an article in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, sugar sweetened beverages is a fancy name for “calorie-containing carbonated drinks, fruit-flavored drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, and vitamin water drinks, but exclude 100% fruit juices.” These are beverages,such as Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, Vitamin Water, Capri-Sun, Red-Bull, Arizona Iced Tea, lemonade and Gatorade, just to name a few (seriously, that’s just a few!).

Because they are so prevalent, it is difficult to “get away” from sugar-sweetened beverages. That is why it is important to understand why they are so bad for you and your children. Just to put it into perspective, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recently released an article that explained “Excessive consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) has become an intractable public health concern worldwide, making investigation of healthy beverage alternatives for SSBs imperative2.

These beverages are not recommended because they provide non-nutritive calories (and added sugar!), or calories without any nutritional benefit. On top of that, your body does not receive any satiety signals from these liquid calories, or “full signals” from your stomach. This means you basically consume these calories, but your body doesn’t recognize them as nourishment, leaving you with the same hunger level as you had before you consumed it. This hunger leads to consumption of a meal or snack, consuming calories once again. It’s no wonder sugar sweetened beverage consumption has been linked to the overweight and obesity epidemic.

Substituting water, unsweetened ice teas and occasionally artificially sweetened beverage (such as diet sprite), can and has been proven to positively impact children’s health. These beverages play an important role in reducing caloric intake, thus obesity prevention. Need more convincing? In adults, replacement/elimination of sugar sweetened beverages led to 17% risk reduction in risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus, reduction in blood pressure, and reductions in fasting blood sugar levels.

As for my soapbox message? Skip sugar sweetened beverage for both you and your children and replace them with calorie free beverages water (preferably!), unsweetened tea or low-calorie beverages like skim milk.