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What You Drink Matters More Than You Think

With the fear of the obesity epidemic looming over our country and childhood obesity rates nearly tripling during the last 30 years, not only eating smart, but drinking smart has become vital.
What You Drink Matters More Than You Think

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By Megan Myrdal, R.D., L.R.D., Extension Agent, Burleigh Country, NDSU Extension Service

"Would you like something to drink?"

We're asked this seemingly simple question almost every day. However, with hundreds of beverage choices to choose from, simply making a choice sometimes is difficult, and picking the one best for our health is even more difficult. With the fear of the obesity epidemic looming over our country and childhood obesity rates nearly tripling during the last 30 years, not only eating smart, but drinking smart, has become vital.

Added Sugar

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the science-based report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, identified added sugars as a food to reduce in the American diet. Added sugars are sugars and syrups added to foods or beverages during preparation or processing. Sugar-sweetened beverages, such as sodas, energy drinks and sports drinks, are the largest contributor of added sugar in the American diet, accounting for 36 percent of our added sugar intake.

These sugary ingredients often are disguised in terminology. Some terms you will see on the ingredient list that indicate added sugars are high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose and glucose. Beverages that contain added sugars include sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, lemonade, and punch. A typical 20 ounce sugar-sweetened beverage contains 17 teaspoons of added sugar!

However, some sugars occur naturally and give foods such as milk and fruit their sweetness. Therefore, when you read a Nutrition Facts label for nonflavored milk or 100 percent fruit juice, it will list that it contains sugar (found under the carbohydrate section). However, these naturally occurring sugars are different than those added to sodas, lemonades and energy drinks; thus, they are not the concern outlined in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

It's All About Calories

To achieve and sustain a healthy weight, we must maintain a calorie balance - eating the right amount of calories for our bodies based on age, gender and physical activity level. Beverages can consume a huge chunk of our calorie budget if we are not careful. Remember, 4 grams of sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon.

Remember, when reading the Nutrition Facts label, the serving size is only 8 ounces, but the amount in the container is often larger. For example, if you drink a 20 ounce Mountain Dew, you would be drinking 2.5 servings (20 ounces divided by 8 ounces = 2.5). Therefore you need to multiply the calories and amount of sugar by the number of servings:

  • 110 (calories in 8 ounces of Mountain Dew) x 2.5(number of servings in 20 ounces) = 275 calories
  • 31 (grams of sugar in 8 ounces) x 2.5 (number of servings in 20 ounces) = 77.5 grams of sugar (more than 19 teaspoons!)

Water and Milk: Your Best Drinks

The human body is made up of 70 percent water, to function properly, it needs water every day. How much water you need is very individualized and depends on many factors, including your health, activity level, where you live and your age. Most professionals recommend 8 to 9 cups of fluids per day for women and 13 cups for men.

Milk provides nine essential nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D and potassium, that are the necessities for building strong bones, supporting a healthy heart and regulating blood pressure. unfortunately, many Americans don't get enough of these in their diets.

Choosing fat-free or low-fat milk provides the same nutrients with less solid fat and fewer calories compared with whole or 2 percent milk.

Simple Tips for Making Smart Beverage Choices

Try to make water and milk your beverages of choice and limit consuming drinks with added sugar. Use these simple tips from the Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to make the smartest beverage choices:

  • Choose water or diet or low-calorie beverages instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • For a quick, easy and inexpensive thirst-quencher, carry a water bottle and refill it throughout the day.
  • Don't "stock the fridge" with sugar-sweetened beverages. Instead, keep a jug or bottles of cold water in the fridge.
  • Make water more exciting by adding slices of lemon, lime, cucumber or watermelon, or drink sparkling water.
  • Add a splash of 100 percent juice to plain sparkling water for a refreshing, low-calorie drink.
  • When you do opt for a sugar-sweetened beverage, go for the small size. Some companies are selling 8-ounce cans and bottles of soda, which contain about 100 calories.
  • Be a role model for your friends and family by choosing healthful, low-calorie beverages.
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