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Are You Drinking Your Sugar?

We all know that too much sugar is not good for us. Added sugars, or sugars and caloric sweeteners that are added to foods and beverages when they are processed or prepared, contribute to excess caloric intake and provide little to no nutritional value. Consequently, sugar can lead to serious health concerns, such as poor oral health, obesity, heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes.

In an effort to limit sugar intake, many of us may steer clear of cakes, cookies, candy and other foods with obvious added sugars, but we often overlook the amount of sugar present in our favorite beverages. Non-diet sodas, sweet tea, flavored coffee beverages, fruit drinks, energy drinks and sports drinks are all full of added sugars.

Dietary Guidelines
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends an upper limit of 10 percent of our total daily calories from sugar. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization is currently working on a proposal that recommends this number be lowered to five percent, similar to current recommendations of the American Heart Association. This would mean an intake of 25 grams of sugar per day would meet the limit, based on a 2,000 calorie diet. To put this in perspective, one 12 oz. can of soda contains, on average, 40 grams of sugar; 15 grams above the recommendation.  So what should we do?

Choose Water
The best advice is to make water your drink of choice. If water is not your favorite beverage, make it more interesting by adding freshly squeezed lemon or orange, or make your own fruit-infused water by adding slices of strawberries, watermelon, lemons or lime in your glass or bottle. Even water infused with cucumber can be delicious and refreshing.  When you desire something with a little more zip, add a splash of 100 percent fruit juice to sparkling water.

Other favorable beverage options include decaffeinated unsweetened tea or coffee. Nonfat or low-fat milk can also be healthy in moderation as it contains important nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D and potassium. And when it comes to fruit juice, remember that it is always better to eat the whole fruit because it offers the same nutrients in addition to fiber.

Read the Labels
Additionally, be sure to read the Nutrition Facts label on your beverages carefully and be mindful of serving sizes.  Often, the serving size is less than the portion served, which would double or even triple your sugar and caloric intake if you drank the entire can, bottle or cup. 

Is it time to rethink your drink?

Talitha Ellsworth, MPH, RD, LDN, is a nutritionist with WakeMed Corporate & Community Health.