When you think about your meal plan for the day, you’re probably thinking about breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and maybe dessert. But you’re probably not thinking too much about the beverages you’re consuming and how they contribute to (or take away from) your health goals.
“Unfortunately, in this country, so much of the added sugar we’re consuming is coming from sugar-sweetened beverages,” said Heather Nace, a registered dietitian and the director of operations at Tulane University’s Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine in New Orleans.
Nace said that too much added sugar is detrimental to our health for a number of reasons: There’s a connection between added sugar and diabetes, a link between added sugar and cardiovascular disease and it can be tied to cognitive problems.
“We know it’s not good for us, [but] it can also be tricky to avoid,” Nace said.
But experts don’t say you should completely cut sugar-sweetened beverages from your diet. You can still have a soda here and there.
“I think there’s a time and place for everything to fit into a healthy diet,” Nace said, “but if you’re somebody who’s drinking soda as your main beverage throughout the day, it’s something to be mindful of.”
Why? There are a few reasons. Below, experts share the beverages they tend to avoid and the reasoning behind their choices.
Depending on the artificial sweetener in these drinks, she said she doesn’t enjoy the aftertaste.
And it’s “also the side effects … just because it can cause bloating and other digestive issues that may not be good — I do see that a lot in people that I work with,” she said.
But, again, she also believes that all foods and drinks can fit into a meal plan — so, for most folks, if you’re going to have soda, go for a half can instead of a full can of diet soda.
Saint-Laurent Beaucejour added that dietary advice is individualized, though, so for someone with diabetes, diet soda is the best option because it won’t have as much of an effect on blood sugar.
In addition to diet soda, regular soda is not a frequent beverage choice among the experts who spoke to HuffPost.
“Soda would be the one for me,” said Nace, who noted that the added sugar is a major reason why.
“A 12-ounce can of soda has about 39 grams of sugar in it,” she said, and the current dietary guidelines say 10% of our total daily calories should come from added sugars — so, for a 2,000-calorie diet, one can of soda is almost equivalent to that 10% limit. And it’s pretty common to have more than just one 12-ounce can of soda in a day.
Jeanette Andrade, a clinical dietitian in the food science and human nutrition department at the University of Florida, added that soda “doesn’t contribute to any kind of health benefits for me ... it doesn’t really have a lot of vitamins or minerals in there.”
“The thing about energy drinks, which is really interesting, is most people ... think of them as being, ‘Oh, it’s good for me. It’s going to give me energy,’” Nace said. “They sort of often overlook the fact they also have a lot of this added sugar.”
She said that one 8-ounce can of Red Bull has 27 grams of sugar, which is equal to about 7 teaspoons of sugar.
According to the American Heart Association, women should limit themselves to 6 teaspoons of sugar per day. For men, it’s 9 teaspoons. One can of Red Bull is more sugar than a woman should have a day and is nearly the daily allotment for men.
Juices also fall in line with the high sugar concerns that experts have. For example, Minute Maid’s fruit punch drink has 24 grams of sugar in an 8-ounce glass, which is comparable to the high amount of sugar in Red Bull.
Jennifer Scherer, a fitness nutrition professional and president of Fredericksburg Fitness Studio in Virginia, said this is why she avoids drinks like apple juice, Hawaiian Punch and sugar-sweetened lemonade.
“I’m just of the belief that you should have the whole fruit itself, which has the fiber,” Scherer said.
When she has a craving for something sweet, she reaches for an orange instead of orange juice.
Alcohol ... With A Caveat
At first thought, alcohol seems like something to avoid — it’s often high in sugar, is linked with liver damage and increases your risk of cancer.
Additionally, some people have adverse reactions to alcohol and can’t tolerate it at all, Andrade said.
But research says that certain alcohols — namely, red wine — potentially carry a small health benefit, she added.
“Dark red wines ― not necessarily a rosé, that’s not going to give you as much antioxidant boost ― but the really dark, rich red wines,” she said.
The exact benefits of red wine still need to be explored, Dr. Don Pham, a cardiologist in Houston, previously told HuffPost. There’s some thought that resveratrol, an antioxidant in red wine, can lower inflammation and blood clot risk, Pham said, but more research is needed because the data has been mixed.
Beyond wine, though, Andrade said the mixers that accompany cocktails add to the beverage’s caloric and sugar contents (like margarita mix in tequila or rum in a rum and Coke). For example, 4 ounces of Margaritaville margarita mix has 26 grams of sugar, which is just as much as a can of Red Bull.
On top of that, folks often don’t accurately disclose how much alcohol they truly drink, Andrade said.
“It’s a taboo subject that no one really wants to admit. And if they do admit to it, they’re usually underestimating how much they’re consuming,” Andrade said.
When you underestimate how much alcohol you consume, you’re also underestimating the amount of sugar that you’re drinking alongside your dinner.
And, as the experts pointed out, high-sugar beverages can be OK sometimes, but drinking them shouldn’t become a habit.