Water — all dressed up
Infused water is plain tap water flavored with fruits, vegetables or herbs, and is a healthy alternative for those who find the beverage bland.
Citrus Cucumber Water
1 large lemon, sliced
1 large orange, sliced
1 large cucumber, sliced
1 half gallon of water
Place all sliced fruits and vegetables in a pitcher and add water. Refrigerate and allow the water to “infuse” for at least two hours. Pour over ice and enjoy.
Source: Boston Medical Center Nutrition and Fitness for Life Program
This summer, a national health study ranked Massachusetts fourth among states with the lowest rates of obesity. Zooming in more closely, though, the picture looks less rosy. More than half of Boston adults — and nearly 44 percent of Boston public school students — are overweight or obese, according to the Boston Public Health Commission. Black and Latino residents are almost twice as likely to struggle with obesity as white residents, and sugary drinks are part of the problem. Skipping them could help whittle down waistlines while improving health.
What is sugar?
“Often, people don’t realize they’re consuming sugar because it goes by many other names,” said Dr. Jan Cook, medical director of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. “Checking ingredients listed on food labels helps. High fructose corn syrup, honey, concentrated fruit juice and cane juice, are forms of sugar often used as added sweeteners. Also look for ingredients that end in ‘ose,’ such as sucrose (table sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), dextrose (another name for glucose, the sugar that circulates in blood to deliver energy to cells), maltose (malt sugar) and lactose (milk sugar).”
What is a sugar-sweetened beverage?
The Boston Public Health Commission defines it as a drink that has any kind of caloric sweetener added to it. Most sugar-sweetened drinks have little or no nutritional value. Some examples are sodas and other carbonated soft drinks; energy or sports drinks; fruit drinks and fruit punches; sweetened coffee and tea drinks and sweetened milk and milk alternatives like chocolate milk or vanilla soy milk.
Sweet drinks rarely make you feel full, so you probably won’t eat less than usual to compensate for the extra calories you’ve sipped. This can quickly add up. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, a can of soda averages 150 calories. Unless you eat less or exercise more to balance those calories, a single soda a day can pack 15 extra pounds onto your body per year. What’s more, studies show higher consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks raises risks for developing diabetes, heart disease, gout, tooth decay and other ailments.
Bigger gulps containing 20 ounces of soft drinks have closer to 250 calories and 16 teaspoons of sugar, notes the Boston Public Health Commission. That far exceeds the American Heart Association’s healthy eating guidelines, which recommend no more than 6 to 9 teaspoons per day of added sugars in foods and beverages.
Which healthy drinks could I choose instead?
Sugar-free diet drinks promise all the sweetness at few — or zero — calories. Sounds like a win-win, right? Not quite. Artificially sweetened drinks may condition taste buds to crave sweet foods, warn experts at Harvard School of Public Health. That cycle is hard to break. Just as with any high-calorie food, skip these drinks or make them an occasional treat.
- Unsweetened seltzer, available flavored or plain.
- Unsweetened coffee or tea, brewed hot or cold in caffeinated or caffeine-free versions. A wide variety of flavorful green teas and herbal teas exists. Adding cinnamon or a dash of vanilla extract may help satisfy a sweet-tooth.
- Unsweetened fat-free or low fat milk, which delivers added nutritional benefits of calcium, vitamin D and protein at 86 or 102 calories per cup, respectively.
Watch out for blended products labeled “100 percent fruit juice” that are sweetened with grape or pear juice or a concentrated fruit juice. These have little nutritional value. Fruit punch and juice drinks or cocktails may have added sugars like corn syrup that make them a poor choice, too. Reserve sports drinks intended for fueling athletes for tough workouts lasting 60 minutes or longer.
How can parents encourage children to drink healthy beverages?
Try these tips for healthy choices:
- Stock up. Keep cool water, flavored seltzers and unsweetened fat free or low fat milk in the fridge. (Note: the American Pediatrics Association recommends whole milk products for most children younger than 2. At that age, fat is important for energy and healthy growth.)
- Shop wisely. Cross soda, sweetened milk, energy drinks and sports drinks off the family grocery list (see “Strike a bargain,” below). Encourage children to read food labels with you and make smart choices. When buying juice, for example, check ingredients on food labels for added sweeteners. Pure apple, orange or vegetable juice is a healthy choice in small amounts (4 to 6 ounces or less per day, say nutrition experts at Harvard School of Public Health. Better still, eat the fruits and vegetables, which have fiber and other nutrients).
- Try spritzers. Let children mix plain or flavored seltzers with a splash of juice. Add a squeeze of lemon or lime, if you like.
- Fill ‘er up. Reach for refillable water bottles rather than juice boxes or sodas. Straws and popular characters can make these especially appealing to younger children.
- Be a good model. Put a pitcher of ice water on the table at meals. If you drink it yourself, children are more likely to follow suit.
- Check school beverage options. Encourage schools to make sure water fountains work and allow students to carry refillable water bottles.
- Strike a bargain. Put money saved by not buying sugary drinks into a jar. Agree on a fun way to spend the sweet savings.