Sugar Shock: How Sweet Drinks Harm Health

When George Prior, a 50-year old entrepreneur in Los Angeles, wanted to raise awareness last month about how added sugar affects the body, he chose to drink 10 cans of Coke a day for one month, hypothesizing that he would gain weight. He was right. After drinking 300 Cokes, representing 42,000 calories, he gained 23 pounds and felt very unhealthy.

While the amount of soda people consume isn’t as extreme, the average American consumes 45 gallons of sweetened beverages a year – the equivalent of 360 pounds of extra sugar, according to a study by Yale University in 2011.

Sodas, juices, sports drinks and other sugary liquids typically represent one-half of the daily calories Americans consume, reports an article in Public Health Nutrition, an academic journal published by Cambridge University Press.

A few other startling facts about sugary drinks:

  • The average can of sugar-sweetened soda, fruit punch or sweetened tea has about 150 calories, the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar.
  • Even drinks defined by the FDA as “reduced calorie” contain seven teaspoons of sugar representing 110 calories.
  • Approximately one-half of the U.S. population, aged 2 and older, consumes sugar-laden drinks on any given day, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found.

In addition to packing a lot of calories that can lead to weight gain and obesity, consuming too many sugary drinks can contribute to heart disease, diabetes, tooth decay and even cancer. Drinking sugary beverages every day for six months increases fat deposits in the liver by 150 percent, which directly contributes to diabetes and heart disease, cites an article in the February 2012 issue of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

And people who drink one to two sugar-sweetened beverages per day have a 26 percent higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes, says research published in Diabetes Care, a flagship research publication of the American Diabetes Association.

“Being mindful of the sugar content in drinks is the best way to reduce their contribution to your daily calories consumption and avoid harming your health,” said Cathy Clark-Reyes, a registered dietitian with Baptist Health Medical Group. “Sugary drinks are empty calories. They don’t have any vitamins or minerals. Even 100 percent juice usually has no less than 15-20 grams of sugar per serving.” Four grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon.

Ms. Clark-Reyes advocates calorie-fee, natural beverages and offers several alternatives to sugary drinks:

  • Fruit- or vegetable-infused water. A lemon or cucumber seeped into water provides flavor without all of the calories, said Ms. Clark-Reyes.
  • Unsweetened tea. Flavored teas, such as raspberry, peach and black cherry, have the taste of juice without the sugar or artificial sweetener.
  • Diluted juice. Adding water to juice makes it a lower calorie choice while still keeping the flavor and essence. Stronger flavored juices – cranberry, grape and grapefruit – work best.
  • Smaller-size soda cans. The mini 7.5-ounce soda cans have about 100 calories. Enjoy these in moderation every once in a while, cautions Ms. Clark-Reyes.
  • Avoid self-serve sodas: Nix the self-serve soda dispensers and free refill offers.

In addition to dietitians, there’s no shortage of medical experts warning about the negative health effects of sugar. Robert Lustig, M.D., a neuroendocrinologist, world-renowned expert on obesity and diabetes, and author of “Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Disease,” classified sugar as an “addictive poison” when speaking to a group of business leaders in Miami last week.

To find out if a drink has added sugar, look at the ingredients for items like brown sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit-juice concentrate, honey, molasses, raw sugar and sucrose. Avoid diet sodas completely and their artificial ingredients, whose long-term effects on the body are unknown, advise medical experts and Ms. Clark-Reyes.


Want to learn more about the dangers of sugar?

Watch Sweet Revenge: Turning the Tables on Processed Food

In 1980, very few kids in the U.S. had type 2 diabetes. Today 30 million children and adults — 9.3 percent of the U.S. population — have diabetes.

Get the facts by watching Sweet Revenge: Turning the Tables on Processed Food on PBS Channel 2, presented by Baptist Health South Florida.  In the documentary,  Robert Lustig, M.D., addresses the health problems associated with the average American diet and how poor food choices affect children and adults in the U.S. and worldwide.

The program, presented by Baptist Health, will air on WPBT- Channel 2:

  • Saturday,  Dec. 20, 4-5 P.M.
  • Friday,  Jan.  23, 10-11 P.M.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

Language Preference / Preferencia de idioma

I want to see the site in English

Continue In English

Quiero ver el sitio en Español

Continuar en español