The Truth About Sugar, Sweeteners, and Diet Drinks

Sugary drinks like soda, fruit punch, lemonade, sports and energy drinks, and other sugar-sweetened beverages can contribute to obesity and diabetes. But did you know that consuming too much added sugar can also raise blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation? And excessive sugar can impair the liver’s ability to clear toxic compounds from the bloodstream and lead to fatty liver disease.

One sneaky way these added sugars get in is in what we drink. The average can of sugar-sweetened soda or fruit punch provides about 150 calories, almost all of them from sugar and usually in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. That’s the equivalent of ten teaspoons of table sugar!

Fruit Juice Is Not Better Than Sugar

But sugar comes under the guise of many labels. For example, although fruit juice may have more nutrients, it can have just as much sugar (albeit as naturally occurring fruit sugar or fructose) and calories as soft drinks while lacking beneficial fiber that you get from eating whole fruit.

When my husband lovingly brought me one of those Odwalla green juices, it was hard for me to hide my horror as I turned the bottle to discover it had 50 grams of sugar! That’s the equivalent of 12 teaspoons of sugar. I couldn’t help but remember this PSA where the kid is asking the parent, “Can you buy me some diabetes?

Diet Drinks Are Not The Solution Either

But the surprising news for many is that substituting sugary drinks with diet drinks is not necessarily the solution. Recent studies have shown that people who drink diet soda actually gained weight and gained more abdominal fat that those who didn’t drink diet soda!

There are a few hypotheses of how this may happen. A recent study in mice showed that artificial sweeteners actually changed the gut bacteria of mice in ways that made them vulnerable to insulin resistance and glucose intolerance, both of which can lead to weight gain.

Artificial Sweeteners May Make You Crave More Sweets!

Other research suggests that artificial sweeteners are associated with a drop in the hormone leptin, which inhibits hunger. And because artificial sweeteners are thousands of times sweeter than regular sugar, our taste buds become more accustomed to a sweet taste without the feedback of calories or satiation, potentially causing increased food consumption.

The point is that drinking sweetened beverages, no matter how they are sweetened—sugar, fruit juice, high-fructose corn syrup, or artificial sweeteners—is just not good for you.

Time To Rethink Your Drink:

  • Drink a glass of water first. We often reach for our favorite beverage or food when we are actually thirsty. See if replenishing your fluids does the trick without adding unnecessary sugar or chemicals.
  • Try other beverages such as plain tea or sparkling water. Add a slice of lemon, lime, or cucumber, a sprig of mint, or a few berries for flavor if needed. A small amount of sugar, honey, or stevia during your transition-from-sweetened drinks phase is ok. The important thing is that you are aware and in charge of exactly what’s going into your drink.
  • Buy caffeine-free. If you drink a lot of soda and are not quite ready to give it up, switch to a caffeine-free version. When your body gets used to consuming caffeine, you crave more of it, so stop this part of the feedback loop and you might find it easier to quit.
  • Save it for special occasions. Shifting from doing something every day to only doing it on occasion will drastically reduce its impact.
  • Avoid or preempt triggers. Do you always get soda with a certain food? Try different foods that you don’t normally associate with a sweetened beverage. Or try an unsweetened beverage such as iced tea or lemon water. Do you refill all day at the office? Bring your own healthy beverage or refillable water bottle.
  • Switch to a brand with fewer artificial ingredients and without high-fructose corn syrup. These generally contain less sugar than the major brands, and since they cost more, you might be more apt to think of them as a special treat.

Stay tuned – Next we will go into the different sweeteners used in foods. Spoiler alert – the same principles apply!

*Adapted from “Resilient Health: How to Thrive in Our Toxic World” by Valencia Porter, MD, MPH


There are no comments yet. Be the first one to leave a comment!