Oh but I love sugar!

Nicolett Weston, FNP
"But I love sugar!" This is the protest I received from my 5 year old when I denied him the brightly packaged, age-appealing, and sugar filled drink he had his eye on. Sound familiar? We have a problem. Americans consume more sugar- primarily in the form of sugary drinks than any other country. We are bombarded with marketing for these tasty drinks everywhere. These companies spend a lot of money marketing to children in particular. Not only that, they are available in larger portions than ever before.

What you drink makes a bigger difference to your health than you think. Calories in drinks are not hidden, but many people don't realize just how many calories beverages can contribute to their daily intake. Soda is usually the target of these conversations, so let's use it as a quick example. There are approximately 16-20 teaspoons of sugar in 20 oz. of most sodas. The average can of sugar-sweetened soda or fruit punch provides about 150 calories, almost all of them from sugar. Drinking one soda a day can equal an extra 15 pounds of weight per year. However, sodas aren't the only source of liquid sugar that you should steer clear from. There are multiple beverages claiming to be 100 percent "all natural" juice, "healthy" teas or juices, energy drinks or sports drinks. These are also loaded with sugar and empty calories. High sugar intake can be harmful to your health and may lead to obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Not to mention tooth decay, low energy, and if the drink is also caffeinated include insomnia, palpitations, and even high blood pressure to the list of unfavorable side effects.

On average, Americans consume nearly 50 gallons of soft drinks each per year. We are in an obesity epidemic and high sugar drinks are huge contributors to this problem. This is likely due to the fact that liquid calories go down easily and quickly. People who drink sugary beverages do not feel as full as if they had eaten the same calories from solid foods, and majority of people don't compensate for their high caloric content by eating less food. You do not get the same feeling of fullness after drinking 200 calories of a liquid as you do from eating whole foods. Therefore you keep eating and even tend to eat more as the day goes on. These drinks often stimulate an appetite for other sweet, high-carbohydrate foods-regardless of whether they are sweetened with sugar or a calorie-free sugar substitute.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), two out of three adults and one out of three children in the United States are overweight or obese. The nation spends an estimated $190 billion a year treating obesity-related health conditions. It's only going to get worse unless we change our habits and choices, especially when it comes to our kids. Over the past 20 years, calories consumed in the form of sugary beverages has increased by 60 percent in children ages 6 to 11. The Harvard School of Public health reports that sugary drinks are the top calorie source in teens' diets. These are empty calories with no significant nutritional value. Beverage companies in the United States spend billions of dollars marketing carbonated beverages, with a significant portion of marketing aimed directly at youth. Our youth are exposed to hundreds of television ads, billboards, and in the case of my little guy- the fancy displays.

The extra calories may not be the worst part. The steady stream of sugar in our bodies increases the risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, unhealthy lipid profiles, inflammation, and heart disease. Diets high in sugar are associated with increased insulin resistance, which is related to diabetes, as well as increased levels of inflammatory markers that are known to raise chronic disease risks.

The inflammation may affect arterial plaque buildup and clots, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. There are some experts who feel that consumption of high sugar and carbonated beverages exacerbate chronic pain syndromes including arthritis, migraine and headaches, and syndromes such as fibromyalgia. In addition, these drinks often also contain red and yellow dyes, carmel color, and other ingredients that could exacerbate many different conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Does this mean we can only drink water? No, of course not. Pay attention to what you are drinking and read the labels. Many drinks claim to have vitamins, antioxidants, and other healthy ingredients but are often loaded with sugar. Do you have to cut them out completely? No, but you can try this. Think of these drinks- soda, fruit juices, lemonades, sweetened teas, energy drinks, and sports drinks -as desert. Like any desert, you can have them in moderation. Save the calories. Enjoy them as a treat once in a while. There are plenty of healthy and tasty alternatives. Change one drink at a time. If you are having a hard time giving up the high sugar drinks- start slowly. Add slices of lemon, lime, cucumber, or watermelon to your water. You can always substitute for sparkling water. Make your own unsweetened tea while incorporating mint or other herbs for flavor. Carry a water bottle and refill it throughout the day. Encourage your kids to make the same changes. Make healthier choices as a family. Limiting your consumption of sugar containing drinks is an easy way to reduce calories, prevent weight gain or lose unwanted weight, and prevent multiple health problems. Not to mention, you will feel better!

Join us at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital for a free Cholesterol Screening and Health Fair on Saturday, visit the "Rethink Your Drink" booth to learn more about health beverages. See you on May 9, 2015 from 7:00am to Noon. For more information visit www.mdmh.org

Questions and or comments regarding this week's health column please contact Nicolett Weston, FNP at Corvallis Family Medicine, a Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital owned clinic, 1037 Main Street, Corvallis, MT 59828. Working together to build a healthier community!
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