Sugar in soft drinks

At one time humans obtained most of their calories from food.  That changed with the arrival of cheap sugar, and then cheaper high-fructose corn syrup.

In the late 16th century, a teaspoon of sugar cost the equivalent of ten pounds in London (1).  Nowadays, 1 teaspoon of sugar costs approximately one pence (2).

 

Teaspoon of sugar

 

Sugar added to food now accounts for nearly 16 percent of the average American’s daily intake; sweetened soft drinks make up nearly half of that (3).

In Britain, government statistics indicate that 14.2 per cent of the calories in the average diet come from added sugars (4).

Researchers at Glasgow University asked 2,005 people from across the UK to estimate how many teaspoons of sugar were in some of the UK’s most popular drinks (5).  Those surveyed were also asked to estimate their average weekly liquid consumption in detail.

 

Sugar in soft drinks - estimated vs actual

 

The findings suggest that the average person in the UK consumes 659 grams of sugar and 3,144 calories per week (which equates to 450 calories per day) through non-alcoholic liquid intake.  This is the equivalent of nearly a quarter of recommended daily calories for a woman and a fifth for men.

People underestimated the amount of sugar in a serving of pomegranate juice by an average of 17.9 teaspoons, while they overestimated the amount of sugar in a serving of fruit squash by almost seven teaspoons.

It is worth noting that a number of products state they contain “100% juice” or “100% pomegranate juice”. You need to read the product label carefully because most products contain only 20 to 30 per cent pomegranate, with the rest typically apple or grape juice.

 

Pomegranate juice

Pomegranate juice

 

Professor Naveed Sattar said:

“While people sometimes overestimate the amount of sugar in carbonated drinks, they significantly underestimate the sugar levels in smoothies and fruit juices.

This analysis confirms that many people are perhaps not aware of the high calorie levels in many commonly consumed drinks.  Some varieties of drinks such as pure fruit juices and smoothies which are perceived as “healthy” options are also very high in sugar. For many people struggling with their weight, reducing their intake of such drinks and replacing with water or diet drinks would be a sensible first target to help them lessen their calorie intake.

For some, this change might seem difficult or impossible as they admit to having a “sweet tooth.”  However, it is now clear that our taste buds can be retrained over time to enjoy far less sugar in drinks (or no sugar at all).  But people deserve support and encouragement to make these changes and the soft drinks industry also has a role to play here by providing drinks with less sugar or offering cheaper diet versions.”

According to information from the British Soft Drinks Association, most soft drinks do not contain sugar.  Their data indicate that more than 60 per cent of the soft drinks market is now made up of diet, low calorie and no added sugar drinks, up from 30 per cent 20 years ago (6).

It is best to drink water but if you would like a fruit juice, here is a recipe for a watermelon, strawberry  and rose water crush, which is relatively low in sugars and calories.

 

Watermelon, strawberry and rose water crush

Watermelon, strawberry and rose water crush

 

For more information about the effect of diet on health, plant-based diets, recipes and tips please sign up for my free newsletter and visit my website.

You can also join me on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

 

 

References


(3) Malik VS, Schulze MB, Hu FB.  Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain: a systematic review. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2006; 84:274-288

(4) DEFRA Food Statistics Pocket Book 2011

(6) British Soft Drinks Association 2011 UK Soft Drinks Report, data from Zenith International

How to lose weight

Many people resolve to go on a diet and adopt a healthier lifestyle, only to give up a few weeks later. Good intentions are often hard to put into practice and sustain. Here are a few suggestions to help you move towards and maintain a healthier weight:

1. Be realistic

Many people set themselves goals they find hard to achieve, such as fitting into a size 8 dress or a dinner jacket from 25 years ago. It is far better to begin by aiming to reduce your weight by 5 to 10 percent of your current weight. This may not turn you into a glamour model in a hurry, but it can lead to important improvements in weight-related conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Once you have achieved this goal, you can always continue and aim to lose another 5 to 10 per cent until you are happy with your weight. Breaking the target down into manageable stages increases your chance of success.

2. Be gentle on yourself

Crash diets may work in the short-term but typically people regain all the weight they have lost and even add some more. Crash diets can also be dangerous. Not only this, but it is usually miserable being on a diet. Depriving yourself of food and feeling hungry sets up cravings which can lead to binge-eating followed by feelings of guilt. Neither deprivation nor hunger are necessary to lose weight if you are willing to take time and do the right things. If you cut out just 100 calories per day, the equivalent of a single can of fizzy drink or a bedtime snack, you could lose about 10 lb (4.5 kg) in a year. If you also added a brisk walk for half an hour a day five days per week, the weight loss could increase to 20 lb (9 Kg) in a year.

3. Keep moving

Next to not smoking, regular physical activity is arguably the best thing you can do for your health. It lowers the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and certain cancers, and can help to control stress and boost mood. Contrary to popular belief, the evidence for a simple relationship between physical activity and weight loss is equivocal, with some studies showing that exercise helps and others suggesting that it does not, possibly due to complex interactions between physical activity, diet and genes. If moderate to vigorous over an extended period, physical activity can help to maintain a healthy weight, provided you do not compensate by eating more as a self-reward. You would have to walk for 98 minutes to burn off the calories in one Mars Bar or swim for 45 minutes to burn off one slice of a pepperoni pizza, for example. For general health, any amount of exercise is better than none. The more you do, though, the better. This does not have to mean joining a gym or jogging. Many activities count as exercise: dancing, skating, gardening, cycling, scrubbing floors, washing the car by hand, or playing with children. Incorporate activity into your day by taking the stairs rather than the escalator, getting off the bus one stop before your destination and walking the rest, cycling to do errands rather than taking the car, and cutting back on watching television, playing computer games and other sedentary activities. Start slowly and gradually build up to more vigorous activity when your fitness increases.

4. Keep track

Many of us eat without thinking and have no idea how much we have consumed. Such lack of awareness can result in us eating and drinking more than we plan to. Try keeping a daily food diary for a while. List everything that you eat or drink, no matter how insignificant it seems. The calories can really add up, even just with drinks – one can of Coca Cola contains 142 calories, for example.

5. Eat food as nature intended

Research shows that people who eat at fast-food restaurants more than twice a week are more likely to gain weight and show early signs of diabetes than those who only occasionally eat fast food.

Our bodies were designed to consume food in the form that nature provides, with nothing added and nothing taken away.

Vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and whole grains all contain protein, carbohydrates, essential fats, vitamins, minerals and fibre. Fibre makes the food bulkier and less nutrient dense than highly processed food. This means that you have to eat a greater quantity of unprocessed food, like vegetables, to obtain the same amount of calories as highly processed foods, such as ice cream.

In the stomach and the gut, there are stretch receptors and nutrient receptors which signal to the body that it has enough food and to stop eating. If you eat highly processed foods, which are rich in calories but poor in vitamins, minerals and essential fats, such as white sugar and white bread, your body’s mechanism for signaling that it is full does not work properly – the gut is neither fully stretched nor receives the nutrients the body needs – so you carry on eating. This increases the chance of you consuming too many calories and becoming overweight, whilst not obtaining enough vitamins, minerals and essential fats.

The more unprocessed foods, like whole grains, vegetables, nuts and seeds, you include in your diet, the easier it is for your body to obtain the nutrients it needs without over-eating. Even if all you do is have porridge for breakfast instead of eating a sugary cereal or drinking strong coffee, you will find it easier to lose weight.

6. Keep your blood sugar stable

Another advantage of a food like porridge is that it has a gentle effect on blood sugar, or what’s called a low glycaemic index. When you eat porridge, glucose is released slowly and steadily into the bloodstream which helps to maintain energy levels over a longer period of time. This reduces hunger and cravings, so you tend to eat less. Other examples include whole grains such as brown rice (especially basmati), quinoa and whole-grain breads and pasta, as well as beans, nuts, fruits, and vegetables.

Eating foods that make your blood sugar and insulin levels shoot up and then crash may contribute to weight gain. Insulin tells the body to store surplus glucose as fat, so constantly excessive levels of glucose and insulin in the blood lead to weight gain. Such foods include white bread, white rice, and other highly processed grain products. So this is another good reason to increase the amount of unprocessed whole foods in your diet and reduce the amount of processed foods rich in calories.

7. Do not be afraid of good fats

Fat in a meal or in snacks such as nuts gives the food taste and helps you to feel full. Good fats, such as olive oil, have many benefits for health, including helping to improve your cholesterol levels when you eat them in place of saturated or trans fats or highly processed carbohydrates, like sugar and white flour products.

8. Drink water rather than fizzy drinks

Drinking juice or cans of sugary drinks can give you several hundred calories a day without even realising it. Several studies show that children and adults who consume sugar-sweetened beverages are more likely to gain weight than those who don’t, and that switching from these to water can reduce weight.

Using artificial sweeteners in soft drinks instead of sugar or high-fructose corn syrup seems like it would sidestep any problems with weight or diabetes. Artificial sweeteners deliver zero carbohydrates, fat, and protein, so they can’t directly influence calorie intake or blood sugar. Over the short term, switching from sugar-sweetened soft drinks to diet drinks cuts calories and leads to weight loss. Long-term use, though, may be a different story.

Some long-term studies show that regular consumption of artificially sweetened beverages reduces the intake of calories and promotes weight loss or maintenance. Others show no effect, while some show weight gain.

One concern about artificial sweeteners is that they uncouple sweetness and energy. Until recently, sweet taste meant sugar, and thus energy. Glucose is critical for the human brain to function, so the body has delicate feedback mechanisms involving the brain, stomach, nerves and hormones, to ensure that there is always a steady supply. When we eat something sweet, the human brain responds with signals – first with signals to eat more, and then with signals to slow down and stop eating. By providing a sweet taste without any calories, artificial sweeteners could confuse these intricate feedback loops. This could potentially throw off the body’s ability accurately to gauge how many calories are being taken in. Studies in rats support this idea. Researchers at Purdue University have shown that rats eating food sweetened with saccharin took in more calories and gained more weight than rats fed sugar-sweetened food. In addition, a long-term study of nearly 3,700 residents of San Antonio, Texas, showed that those who averaged three or more artificially sweetened beverages a day were more likely to have gained weight over an eight-year period than those who didn’t drink artificially sweetened beverages. At present, research findings are mixed, but there is a possibility that diet drinks may lead to weight gain in the longer term.

If you have enjoyed this post please leave your comments below.

If you would like to keep in touch, please click here to sign up for my free e-newsletter and browse my website.

You can also join me on FacebookTwitterPinterest and LinkedIn, where I post interesting information which is not included in this blog.

References

Clinical guidelines on the identification, evaluation, and treatment of overweight and obesity in adults: the evidence report. National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Obesity Education Initiative

Haskell WL, Lee IM, Pate RR, et al. Physical activity and public health: updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007; 39:1423–34

Pronk NP, Wing RR. Physical activity and long-term maintenance of weight loss. Obes Res. 1994 Nov;2(6):587-99

Fogelhom M, Kukkonen-Harjula K. Does physical activity prevent weight gain – a systematic review Obesity Reviews, Volume 1, Issue 2, 95–111, October 2000

Pereira MA, Kartashov AI, Ebbeling CB, et al. Fast–food habits, weight gain, and insulin resistance (the CARDIA study): 15-year prospective analysis. Lancet. 2005; 365:36–42

Bellisle F, Drewnowski A. Intense sweeteners, energy intake and the control of body weight. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007; 61:691-700

Swithers SE, Davidson TL. A role for sweet taste: calorie predictive relations in energy regulation by rats. Behavioral Neuroscience. 2008; 122:161-173

Fowler SP, Williams K, Resendez RG, Hunt KJ, Hazuda HP, Stern MP. Fueling the obesity epidemic? Artificially sweetened beverage use and long-term weight gain. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2008; 16:1894-1900

Frank GK, Oberndorfer TA, Simmons AN, et al. Sucrose activates human taste pathways differently from artificial sweetener. Neuroimage. 2008; 39:1559-1569

Willett, W. Eat, drink and be healthy. Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating. The Free Press; Free Press Trade Pbk. Ed edition (April 2005). ISBN: 978-0743266420.

Lisle D, Goldhamer A. The Pleasure Trap – Mastering the Hidden Force that Undermines Health and Happiness.  Healthy Living Publications, 30 March 2006

The need for healthier drinks

boy_drinking_by_jynmeyer_stock_xchng(1)This week, the British Soft Drinks Association published the 2009 UK Soft Drinks Report.  Despite the recession and the wet summer, total soft drink consumption held up, with a 1 per cent increase in market value, although volume declined by 1 per cent.  Bottled waters and smoothies were particularly hit by a decline in volume, whilst carbonated drinks, still and juice drinks increased in volume.  Consumers’ focus on health and wellbeing, and a desire for naturalness benefited the not from concentrate (NFC) fruit juice category with volumes up 10 million litres so that NFC juice now represents over 45% of the chilled juice segment. The overall retail value of fruit juice did, however, decline in 2008 (down 4% to £1900 million).  In total, £13 billion was spent on soft drinks in the UK, representing consumption of 13905 million litres.  This is an average of 4.4 litres per person per week, or the equivalent of 2 cans per person per day.

Consumption of soft drinks is continuing to rise.  Findings from the last UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey showed that consumption of soft drinks in adults in 2000/01 was equivalent to 4-5 cans per week, compared to less than 3 cans per week in 1986/87.  The majority of soft drinks consumed were carbonated.  Statistics from the British Soft Drinks Association show that 60 per cent of the carbonated drinks consumed are low-calorie and no added sugar types.  In 2000/01 young men and women (19-24 years) consumed over three times the quantity of soft drinks as did the oldest men and women (50-64 years).

Evidence from the British Soft Drinks Association suggests that children drink an average of 4.7 litres of soft drink per week, of which only 10% are fruit juice or water. 

According to the last National Diet and Nutrition Survey in the UK, soft drinks (mainly carbonated) were the single largest contributor to non-milk extrinsic sugars (NMES) intake in all age groups, providing a quarter to a third of intake on average.  

It is interesting to note that groups with the lowest mean intakes and biochemical status of almost all nutrients had the highest consumption of soft drinks. 

Although the British Soft Drinks Association denies a link between soft drink consumption and obesity, pointing instead to the value of soft drinks for encouraging adequate hydration, there can be little doubt that these rivers of sugar are doing little to enhance the health of the nation. 

Each 330 ml can of sugary drink or juice typically has 10 to 12 teaspoons of sugar, and 150 or more calories.  Is it pure coincidence that the rising thirst for sugar-water has paralleled the epidemic rise of obesity and type 2 diabetes? There is now strong evidence that sugary drinks have contributed substantially to the rapid growth of “diabesity”.  Women who have one or more servings of a sugary drink per day have nearly double the diabetes risk of women who rarely have sugary drinks. 

Latest research from the Harvard School of Public Health finds disturbing evidence of a link between sugary drink consumption and heart disease. The study, published in the April edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, followed the health of nearly 90,000 women over two decades. It found that women who drank more than 2 servings of sugary beverage each day had a nearly 40 percent higher risk of heart disease than women who rarely drank sugary beverages. 

Water, of course, is the best beverage option. It delivers everything the body needs – pure H2O – with zero calories. But for some tastes, ordinary water is just too dull and it is unrealistic to expect people to overcome their sugar-water addiction overnight.  Instead, it will require concerted effort at a range of levels to retrain our palates.  We need to educate individual consumers about the benefits of consuming less sugary drinks, provide healthier alternatives in schools and worksites, and encourage creativity and innovation among food scientists and marketers in the beverage industry to develop products that consider health and well-being whilst maintaining profitability. 

For further information about the effects of drinks on our health, please come to a Cooking for Health Course, led by Nutrition Consultant Jane Philpott, MA (Oxon), MSc, PhD.

Drinks may contribute more to obesity than food

drinksWhile the energy density of soft drinks, which are frequently highly calorific, needs to be considered differently from that of solid foods, recent research has demonstrated that consumption of soft drinks is likely to increase normal caloric intake.  When people consume soft drinks, they do not recognise that they have taken in extra energy and compensate by reducing energy from elsewhere in their daily diet, or by expending additional energy; they simply add it on. 

A standard 330 ml can of Coca-Cola contains 139 calories. Thus if a person were to consume a can of Coca-Cola with two meals per day, over a week that would result in an energy surplus of nearly 2,000 calories-more than a whole day’s recommended calorie intake for the average woman, and about  three-quarters of the recommended daily calorie intake for a man. Evidence from the British Soft Drinks Association suggests that children drink an average of 4.7 litres of soft drink per week, of which only 10% are fruit juice or water. 

Consumption of alcohol, particularly amongst women and young people in the UK, has increased dramatically during the past years. Since 1970, alcohol consumption in the UK has increased by 40 per cent. With most alcoholic drinks being at least as calorific as a high-sugar soft drink, such as Coca-Cola, it would seem intuitive that the massive increase in their consumption has had some impact on the nation’s weight. Much attention has focused in recent months on the growing culture of ‘binge drinking’, particularly amongst young people. While the health risks associated with this are well documented, what is less publicised is that drinking five pints of lager over an evening adds an extra 1,135 calories, nearly half a man’s daily energy requirement, and five bottles of an ‘alcopop’ such as Bacardi Breezer contain 990 calories, nearly half a woman’s daily energy requirement. 

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health examined the relationship between beverage consumption among adults and weight change and found that weight loss was positively associated with a reduction in liquid calorie consumption and liquid calorie intake had a stronger impact on weight than solid calorie intake. The results are published in the April 1, 2009, issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 

“Both liquid and solid calories were associated with weight change, however, only a reduction in liquid calorie intake was shown to significantly affect weight loss during the 6-month follow up,” said Benjamin Caballero MD, PhD, senior author of the study and a professor with the Bloomberg School’s Department of International Health. “A reduction in liquid calorie intake was associated with a weight loss of 0.25 kg at 6 months and 0.24 kg at 18 months. Among sugar-sweetened beverages, a reduction of 1 serving was associated with a weight loss of 0.5 kg at 6 months and 0.7 kg at 18 months. Of the seven types of beverages examined, sugar-sweetened beverages were the only beverages significantly associated with weight change.”

Researchers conducted a prospective study of 810 adults aged 25-79 years old participating in the PREMIER trial, an 18-month randomized, controlled, behavioural intervention. Caballero along with colleagues from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine; the National Heart, Lung, and Blood institute; Duke University; the Pennington Biomedical Research Center; the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research; the University of Alabama; and Pennsylvania State University measured participant’s weight and height using a calibrated scale and a wall-mounted stadiometer at both 6 and 18 months. Dietary intake was measured by conducting unannounced 24-hour dietary recall interviews by telephone. 

Researchers divided beverages into several categories based on calorie content and nutritional composition: 

  • sugar-sweetened beverages (regular soft drinks, fruit drinks, fruit punch, or high-calorie beverages sweetened with sugar)
  • diet drinks (diet soda and other “diet” drinks sweetened with artificial sweeteners)
  • milk (whole milk, 2 percent reduced-fat milk, 1 percent low-fat milk, and skim milk)
  • 100 percent juice (100 percent fruit and vegetable juice)
  • coffee and tea with sugar, coffee and tea without sugar and
  • alcoholic beverages.

They found that at 37 percent sugar-sweetened beverages were the leading source of liquid calories. 

Consumption of liquid calories from beverages has increased in parallel with the obesity epidemic.

Earlier studies by Bloomberg School researchers project that 75 percent of U.S. adults could be overweight or obese by 2015 and have linked the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to the obesity epidemic, which affects two-thirds of adults and increases the risk for adverse health conditions such as type 2 diabetes. 

Researchers recommend limited liquid calorie intake among adults and to reduce sugar-sweetened beverage consumption as a means to accomplish weight loss or avoid excess weight gain. 

“Among beverages, sugar-sweetened beverages was the only beverage type significantly associated with weight change at both the 6- and 18-month follow up periods,” said Liwei Chen, MD, PhD, MHS, lead author of the study and a Bloomberg School graduate. “Changes in the consumption of diet drinks and alcoholic beverages were inversely associated with weight loss, but were not statistically significant. Our study supports policy recommendations and public health efforts to reduce intakes of liquid calories, particularly from sugar-sweetened beverages, in the general population.” 

In the UK, little government attention seems to be given to the impact of soft drink and alcohol consumption on obesity.  The adverse health effects of excess alcohol consumption are well-documented but its effects on weight gain are underestimated. The effect of alcohol on obesity is not even mentioned in the Chief Medical Officer’s recent Annual Public Health Report, which created controversy by suggesting a range of measures to address the nation’s drink problem. 

“Easy access to cheap alcohol is “killing us as never before” and must be curbed with tough licensing laws, price rises and a shift in public opinion that makes being drunk as unacceptable as smoking”.  

Responding to comments from Downing Street that the majority of sensible drinkers should not have to pay for the excessive drinking of the minority, Sir Liam said: “I take a different view as to whether heavy drinking is a minor and insignificant problem.” 

If the UK government is not yet prepared to tackle the well-understood health problems associated with alcohol consumption, we clearly have a long way to go before its effect on obesity reaches the radar screen. 

For information on the effects of different types of drinks on health and creative ideas for healthy drinks, please come to a Cooking for Health course, held throughout the year in Somerset, UK, led by nutrition expert Dr Jane Philpott.