With the beginning of the summer heat upon us, you may find yourself reaching for more and more of those sweet iced-teas, coffee drinks, or cold sodas–drinks known as Sugar-Sweetened Beverages. Sugar-sweetened beverages are the major source of added sugars in the American diet. The term added sugars refers to the amount of sugar added to a product during its processing.
Now, thanks to the recent announcement of FDA’s newly revised and modernized Nutrition Facts label, you will soon know exactly how much added sugar is in the everyday products and drinks you consume. The new label, which had previously not been updated in the two decades since its release, will require added sugar to be calculated separately from the total amount of sugar in a packaged product (see label below). Total Sugars will still account for both added sugars and the naturally occurring sugar found prior to creating the processed food or beverage product.
According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Institute of Medicine, excessive calorie consumption from added sugars is a key public health concern. Calories from added sugar are known as empty calories, which contain no nutrients and displace more nutritious foods in the diet. Excessive added sugar consumption is strongly linked to type 2 diabetes, weight gain and obesity, along with high blood pressure, poor dental health, and cardiovascular disease.
Added sugar intake should be restricted to 10% or less of calories. The average American consumes over 13% of calories a day from added sugar. For American teens, that number increases to 17%. Though snacks and treats are often blamed as the main source of sugar in the diet, you may be surprised to learn that sugar-sweetened beverages are responsible for nearly 50% of the added sugars in the American diet.
Interested in cutting down on sugary drinks? Here are some of my top tips to reduce the added sugar in common beverages:
Soda: The ultimate empty calorie drink, whether it is diet or regular. Instead, opt for unsweetened flavored seltzers and add berries, citrus, or fresh herbs like peppermint. Or, try a piece of fresh fruit to get your sugar fix (added bonus: fruit contains fiber and vitamins/minerals!)
Coffee and Tea: Skip the fancy drinks and keep it simple. Save calories and sugar–and money–by avoiding sugar packets, sweetened flavoring syrups, and nix the whipped cream.
Fruit Drinks and Flavored Waters: Try flavored, unsweetened sparkling waters or seltzers or fresh fruit. Having a hard time kicking the juice habit? Cut down consumption by diluting with water or sparkling water.
Sports Drinks, Energy Drinks: Often nothing more than glorified sugar water with caffeine, resist the miracle claims these drinks peddle. Stay hydrated with water and get your energy boost from a healthy, balanced diet and stick to simple coffee or tea drinks.
Alcohol: Surprised? Wine and mixed drinks that contain juice or syrups can quickly pack in calories from sugar on top of the naturally calorie-rich nature of alcohol. Stick with moderate drinking (up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men).
For more on the health risks of sugar sweetened beverages, and tips on how to enjoy life without them, check out my latest piece in Health and Wellness Magazine: Are Your Beverages Sabotaging Your Health Goals?