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Published on June 10, 2019

bottles of drinks on table with sugar content comparison

Surprising Sugar Content in Your Favorite Drinks

On a hot day with no breeze, it’s easy to start to crave your favorite sweet drink. When you do, you’ll likely focus on how good it tastes, especially those first sips.

When you quench your thirst, you might want to stop and reconsider just how much sugar is packed into a wide range of drinks – even ones that seem healthier.

“There’s probably a lot more sugar in there than you think. We have become so accustomed to drinking sugary beverages that we do not notice it as much,” said Jennifer McKay, MD, internal medicine physician and hospitalist with Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health System. “There seems to be more sugar in drinks now than 20 or 30 years ago.”

Why It Matters

Sugary drinks have high calorie content and low nutrition, and that fact alone will lead a person to put on weight,

“As a physician, I ask patients about how much they’re drinking when it comes to soda, juices or other beverages with lots of sugar,” said McKay. “Research recently has found that drinking these beverages – no matter how they’re sweetened – can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

When you pound down that first big drink of a sugary soda or other sweetened drink, your body responds with insulin releases.

“That chemical tells your body to store fat when you drink sugar,” she said. “In the case of artificial sweeteners, we feel that it may have something to do with gut health or it may be triggering an insulin response as well. So the artificial sweeteners may not be as good a choice as we once thought.”

As you repeat the process – sugary drink, insulin response, sugary drink, insulin response – your body becomes more resistant to sugars in general.

“Over time that can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes,” said McKay. “We all grossly underestimate the number of calories we take in, and once you start to take a closer look at calories from sugary drinks, you might be a little bit stunned at how much you ingest with drinks alone. We hope it’ll lead us all to be more thoughtful.”

Another Element in the Drinks

Carbohydrates as well as sugars are a big part of drinks like sweet tea, soda and even some “good for you” products.

“It may be shocking to some people to realize that they’re getting so many calories from what they’re drinking,” said McKay. “Generally speaking you want to get them from fruits, vegetables and proteins. But if you’re having a soda with each meal or several during the day, you may want to think about why you’re doing that.”

Fruits and veggies contain more fiber and water and make you feel fuller sooner. That’s why some drinks including ones with more “natural juice” still don’t make the cut.

“You get such a concentrated portion, you’d be better off to eat the fruit – not a puree or liquid version of the fruit,” she said. “But the great news is no matter if it’s sugar or an artificial sweetener, it’s an independent risk factor. You can take control and eliminate it from your diet. It’s not like genetics where you don’t have any control of it. Knowing what you drink is important – and it takes a little consideration.”

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