This Issue

Sugar-sweetened beverages

Water: It’s the real thing

Skipping sugar-sweetened beverages

Q & A

A closer look

Often people do not realize they are consuming so much sugar because the sweetener goes by many different names. One hint — words ending in “ose,” such as sucrose, glucose and fructose are all sugars.

Because this is a juice drink people assume it is healthy. It does contain some juice, but most of the sugars are added, not natural. Learn to read between the lines. While the first ingredient is water, the next five are sugars, but the word “sugar” is listed only once.

One serving (one cup) of this fruit drink contains 120 calories and 31 grams or almost 8 teaspoons of sugar, exceeding the American Heart Association’s recommended daily limit of added sugars. One teaspoon of sugar has about 4 grams of sugar and 16 calories.

A closer look

Spot the added sugars

Stop. Rethink your drink.

Water — all dressed up

How much is too much?

Spot the added sugars

• Brown sugar

• Cane sugar

• Corn sweetener

• Corn syrup

• Evaporated cane juice

• Fruit juice concentrates

• High-fructose corn syrup

• Honey

• Maple syrup

• Molasses

• Raw sugar

• Syrup

How much is too much?

honeyThe body requires glucose to provide energy to do its job. We can get that sugar naturally from fruits, vegetables, milk and whole grains, which are full of nutrients. Added sugars, on the other hand, are sugars and syrups added to foods during preparation or at the table. These added sugars bring with them sweetness and calories, but lack nutrition. The American Heart Association recommends a daily limit of added sugars according to the information below.

Women’s daily limit
6 teaspoons = 100 Calories = 25 grams

Men’s daily limit
9 teaspoons = 150 Calories = 37.5 grams

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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

Water: It’s the real thing

Carollynn Porter (right) and her 11-year-old daughter, Lynn-Tyia, have switched from sugary to more healthy beverages to help control their weight and improve their health. (Ernesto Arroyo photo)
Vivien Morris has one word for all those addicted to sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) — water.

As director of Community Initiatives Nutrition and Fitness for Life Program at Boston Medical Center, she said she understands people’s taste for sweet things. It starts very young. “Newborns like breast milk because it’s sweet,” she explained. “But we learn other tastes and enjoy them as well. Everything does not have to be sweet.”

It’s hard to convince kids of that sometimes. They are being programmed at a young age. Marketers target their message to youth, and they listen. Morris is convinced that the uptick in childhood obesity is linked to the uptick in consumption and availability of SSBs. But she is more concerned about what will happen to these kids down the road. The jury is still out on what life holds for people who get type 2 diabetes at a young age.

Typically, diabetes is a disease of older people. When the complications of the disease — blindness, amputation, kidney failure — surface years later, the victims are in the twilight of their years. “What will happen 20 years from now with kids who have been diagnosed with diabetes? They will still be in the prime of their lives,” she questioned.

Morris recognizes that minority communities are often targeted by marketers of SSBs. “They’re cheap,” she explained. “Especially if you get an off-brand. Corner stores sell them in brightly colored containers that attract children.”

Carollynn Porter, 33, readily admits that she was partly to blame for all the sodas and other SSBs her 11-year-old daughter, Lynn-Tyia, was drinking. “I drank sodas, sweet teas, lemonade, fruit drinks — anything I could find,” she confessed.

She could drink six to seven cans a day. A 2-liter bottle of soda was kid stuff. “To me I was addicted to cola,” she said. But she wasn’t the only one drinking all that sugar. Like mother like daughter, Lynn-Tyia was keeping pace. Lynn-Tyia’s reason for drinking so much SSBs was pretty straightforward. “I just like it,” she said.

But as both their weights started to increase, Porter said she realized that she had a problem. “I really didn’t see it at first,” Porter admitted, especially since Lynn-Tyia used to be a skinny kid. “I was blind-sided.”

Vivien Morris (right) is the director of Community Initiatives Nutrition and Fitness for Life Program at Boston Medical Center. With her is Beza Alayew, an intern from Boston University’s School of Public Health. (Yawu Miller photo)

She said she realized in order to help her daughter she had to make changes in her life first. “It’s on me,” she confessed. And change she did. Out went the SSBs. “We drink flavored sparkling water now or just plain water,” she said. Sugary sodas have been replaced with diet sodas.

Lynn-Tyia, a fifth grader at Boston Renaissance Charter School, likes math and writing and plays a little tennis on the side. For her switching from SSBs was not a problem. The diet sodas she now drinks taste the same to her. And she’s fond of almond milk.

But she admitted she did notice one change. As she grew heavier, she ran more slowly. As she switched to a healthier eating plan and less sugary beverages she made another discovery. “I can run a little faster now,” she said.

Excessive consumption of SSBs is easy to resolve — at least conceptually. There’s a drink that has stood the test of time. By all accounts, water is nature’s best beverage. More than that, just as the body requires energy, it also requires water to survive.

For some the gigantic leap from sugared sodas to water is too hard. Then baby steps will do. Diet sodas are not an optimal solution but are a good first step. If it’s the bubbly that tickles your fancy, flavored sparkling water or seltzer is a good substitute. If water is too bland for your taste, add some fruits, such as pineapple, watermelon or berries.

Public health officials have not stood idly by. SSBs were banned from vending machines in the Boston Public Schools in 2004. Apparently, it paid off. A recent study showed that two years following the ban, Boston public high school students on average consumed a significantly lower amount of SBBs. Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston has gone one step further. As of October 2011, SSBs are banned from all city properties and functions, including vending machines and food and beverage services programs. A local hospital followed suit.

The Boston Public Health Commission is orchestrating the Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Initiative to increase public awareness of the connection between SSB consumption and obesity, while the Boston Medical Center (BMC) is promoting a similar program called the Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Task Force.

Morris is actively involved in the BMC task force. Don’t get her started on the benefits of eliminating SSBs. She has heard all the complaints before on why people don’t drink water. “It has no taste” is one. “I just don’t like it” is another. Some admit they never got in the habit. To those, Morris suggests, “try it.”

If people like more than the daily recommended serving of juice she recommends diluting half a glass of juice, with half a glass of water. “You don’t have to stop there,” she said. “Once you adjust to that, you can dilute again.”

And she said she realizes that bottled water can be more expensive than cheap sodas. But she is steadfast in her belief what should be the number one beverage in America.

Yup, water.

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