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Prairie Fare: Beverage Choices Make a Difference

Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist
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While we can fit some added sweeteners in a healthful diet, we need to consider portion size and consequences of too many added calories.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

For several consecutive weeks last fall, I visited the fourth-grade classroom that includes my daughter. We explored reading, math and other subjects as we discussed nutrition, acted out a play and did hands-on activities.

One day, we examined the ingredient statements to find words that indicate a food has added sweeteners. They learned that sweeteners add calories but no nutrients, such as protein or vitamin C or A.

Are you smarter than a fourth-grader? Besides the term “sugar,” can you name at least four words that indicate your favorite beverage is sweetened with a calorie-containing ingredient? Pause and think.

If an ingredient statement includes the words high-fructose corn syrup, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, honey, sucrose or dextrose, the beverage has added sweeteners that contribute calories. All these ingredients are combined as sugars on the Nutrition Facts label.

One week, we studied Nutrition Facts labels. I brought a variety of empty beverage containers with me so we could practice reading labels. We calculated the number of teaspoons of added sweetener each beverage contained.

We used sugar cubes as our visual aids. The cubes are stackable and a lot neater than spoons of syrup in an elementary classroom. One cube weighs about 4 grams, which is equal to 1 teaspoon of sugar.

I told them a little story about the “olden days” when I was their age. Back then, bottles were smaller and made of glass. Soda pop was a treat, not a beverage regularly served with meals. An 8-ounce bottle was the norm and had about 100 calories. That was equal to 7 sugar cubes.

Later, 12-ounce cans of soda became the typical size. A can of regular pop has about 150 calories. That’s about 10 sugar cubes.

Now 20-ounce plastic bottles are the norm. If you drink the entire bottle, which technically is 2.5 servings, you are consuming 250 calories or about 17 sugar cubes. Liter-sized containers are available, too, and some people treat those bottles as single servings. Stack up about 27 sugar cubes if you drink a liter of regular pop.

The kids were surprised at the towers of sugar cubes we created.

Then we talked about juice and other beverages. Juice labeled 100 percent fruit juice contains natural sugars from the fruit, plus most contain vitamin C. A fruit-flavored beverage, on the other hand, may contain little, if any, fruit juice.

While we can fit some added sweeteners in a healthful diet, we need to consider portion size and consequences of too many added calories. Unfortunately, when we drink sweetened beverages, we usually do not feel very full compared with eating food. According to a published study with 18 months of follow-up, researchers reported that if children drank just 12 ounces (one can) of regular soda per day, they increased the odds of becoming obese by 60 percent.

Think about your beverage choices. Here are some tips adapted from

  • Make water, low-fat or fat-free milk or 100 percent juice easy options in your home. Encourage family members to eat whole fruit for the fiber advantage.
  • Drink water instead of sweetened drinks when you are thirsty. Energy and sports drinks and regular soda all provide added sweeteners and calories to your diet.
  • Take water on the go in a clean, reusable water bottle. Reusable water bottles are easy on the environment, convenient and cost-effective.
  • Save money at restaurants by ordering water when dining out and drinking water from the tap at home.
  • Enjoy an occasional sweetened beverage, but have a smaller portion. Split a can of soda pop.
  • Read and compare Nutrition Facts labels to learn more about sugar, fat, calories and nutrients in your favorite beverages.

At this time of year, we all dream about a summer breeze. Here is a tasty smoothie recipe from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recipe finder at It can serve as a breakfast or snack on the go. For more recipes and nutrition tips, visit the Prairie Fare blog at

Summer Breeze Smoothie

1 c. plain, nonfat yogurt

6 strawberries

1 c. pineapple (crushed, canned in juice)

1 medium banana

1 tsp. vanilla extract

4 ice cubes

Place all ingredients in blender and puree until smooth. Serve in frosted glass.

Makes three servings. Each 1-cup serving has 130 calories, 4 grams (g) of protein, 30 g of carbohydrate, 0 g of fat, 2 g of fiber and 45 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – Feb. 21, 2013

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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Prairie Fare: Prairie Fare: Looking Back on Nutrition and Other Trends in the Last 40 Years  (2019-04-18)  Though nutrition recommendations have changed over the years, moderation is still key.  FULL STORY
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