Don’t Drink Your Calories - A Guide For Cutting Out Sugar-Sweetened Beverages
Author - Stephen Griffith C.S.C.S.
In 2012 New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg set off controversy when he proposed a law that would ban restaurants, fast-food establishments, delis, movie theaters, sports stadiums and food carts from selling sugary drinks of more than 16oz.
While the law was put down for being an overreach of power the reason for its creation remains true - Sugar not only makes you fat, but it's also making you sick.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that the average American consumes between 150 to 170 pounds of refined sugars each year.
While sugar isn’t the sole cause of obesity, it is a large contributor. When consumed in excess it leads to consuming more calories and other metabolic disturbances. Sugar-sweetened beverages are a leading source of added sugars in the american diet and that makes them the best place to start.
Why should you drop sugary beverages?
Here is a statement and description from the Center of Disease Control
“Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) or sugary drinks are leading sources of added sugars in the American diet. Frequently drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with weight gain/obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases, non-alcoholic liver disease, tooth decay and cavities, and gout, a type of arthritis.1-4 Limiting the amount of SSB intake can help individuals maintain a healthy weight and have a healthy diet.”
“What are sugar-sweetened beverages?
"Sugar-sweetened beverages are any liquids that are sweetened with various forms of added sugars like brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, and sucrose.5
Examples of SSBs include, but are not limited to regular soda (not sugar-free), fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened waters, and coffee and tea beverages with added sugars.”
For more on statistics regarding sugar-sweetened beverages go to the CDC website here Center for Disease Control.
Because sugar sweetened beverages pack calories providing no real nutritional value they are referred to as empty calories. Additionally, because liquid is quickly digested the beverages considered SSBs don't stimulate feelings of fullness like that of solid food. This puts you in a lose-lose situation. Your adding calories to your diet without getting the benefit of feeling full or the nourishment that comes with nutrition.
The second consequence of sugary drinks comes from their lack of fiber. Fiber is a substance that helps slow the digestion of the beverage. The lack of fiber means sugar is quickly digested and sent to the bloodstream. These quick spikes in blood sugar cause fat storage , erratic energy, and contributes to the onset of diabetes.
These consequences can be avoided with one simple change.
A Simple Rule: Don’t drink your calories.
There are about 3500 calories in a pound of fat which means if you reduce your intake by 500 calories each day you can be looking at losing a pound a week. For many, cutting out sugary drinks is a simple way to hit that mark.
Now I have an infamous sweet tooth, so I understand the appeal of a nice sweet beverage - It taste good. While drinking water is ideal I can also understand that dropping everything and drinking nothing but water may not be a realistic change. So I wanted to make a list of tasty and satisfying alternatives to the pop and juicy juice.
Now I’ll give you some other alternatives in a moment, but the best thing you can do is drink water.
Water is the ideal beverage - Water quenches thirst and has no calories. Its perfect. As much as we like to think humans are above it all, we like the rest of the animals kingdom are bound by this common need.
Here are a few ways to get more water in your day
- Carry a water bottle - If it's around then you will be more inclined to drink it. You’ll stay hydrated, quell hunger and feel better.
- Add Ice - Nothing taste more refreshing than a cool glass of water, especially if it's on a hot day.
- Let it Run - Tap water can often pick up residual from the pipes which alters its taste and pose health risk. To help with this let the water run for 10-30 seconds on cold before you fill up a glass.
- Purify it -. If you live in an old building or in rural parts of the country sometimes running the water isn’t enough. Investing in a water purifier is a great way to filter out the junk and leave you with a nice refreshing glass of fresh water.
Water Bottles - If you don’t have access to a water filter you can solve this problem with some bottled water.
Notes: Do not drink the water if the bottle has been left out in the sun or heat. This causes the plastics to break down and leak into the water which can pose health risk.
Note: You can try bottled water that uses cardboard instead of plastic. Just like a milk container. It can solve that issue of plastics leaking into your water and also reduce the number of water bottles we pollute.
Carbonated/Seltzer - for those who enjoy the satisfaction of a bubbly soda, then this may be a good alternative as long as there's no added sugars. It's another way to change things up.
There are some health debates over carbonated drinks. If you'd like an article over the health risk of carbonated water then read the article below. The summary is that carbonated water doesn't have the adverse health effects like those of soda and that it may in fact offer a few health benefits.
After years of downing sweets and artificial sweeteners water can be plain. So here are a few ways to add some flavor and make water more appealing.
Fruit infused water
This is a great way to add flavor to water without adding sugar. It’s also extremely simple - Take fresh fruit or herbs, place them in a glass pitcher or jar and let them soak for a few hours or overnight. What you're left with is an extremely refreshing beverage with the flavor of your favorite fruits and herbs. Below are two links for popular recipes.
Tea is a year round beverage. Let it warm you up on a cold day or throw it over ice for a refreshing summer beverage. Tea is also one of the oldest beverages on the planet known far and wide for its many health benefits. It comes in many different flavors and variety so you will never have to be bored.
I recommend not using sugar with your tea. The taste may be bitter or plain at first to the unaccustomed palate but after a few tries your taste buds will adapt.
Here is a list of the top 10 benefits of tea
And this is a list of 86 herbal teas that each have their own unique health benefits. Use it as a reference or use it broaden your options. http://theheartysoul.com/herbal-tea-benefits/
Coffee like tea comes with a number of health benefits. For many Americans this beverage may be the healthiest item they consume all day. Coffee however, can be prone to added calories with the addition of milk, cream, sugar or there sweeteners. In an ideal world you would drink your coffee black but I understand that going straight to black may be unrealistic. If this is you then I suggest gradually weaning yourself off the added sugar and cream.
One alternative that works for many is to substitute unsweetened almond milk.
Coffee is great option, but be sure to not consume it late in the afternoon as the caffeine can affect your sleep.
Here is an article on some of the benefits you can receive from drinking coffee
This article goes over a few ways to make your coffee healthier. Some bits include removing sugar and cream, but also a few alternatives such as adding cinnamon, cocoa or using paper filters.
Like tea there are also a number of different types of coffee - I encourage you to experiment.
Eat Fruits Instead
Eat your beverages. Most drinks are no good because they're full of sugar, dyes and artificial sweeteners. The rest such as fruit juices, are stripped of nutrients and fiber during the juicing process. This means they don’t keep you full and will cause your blood sugar to spike. Cut out the middleman; instead of sugary beverages and fruit juices just eat a real fruit. Fruits are full of nutrients, sweet to taste, and will help keep you fuller than juices. My personal favorite is a a few slices of watermelon with dinner after a long summer day.
The options listed above should comprise most of what you drink. They are the one's that are most beneficial toward your health. However I acknowledge that sometimes you may want something a little more so below I have comprised a list of alternative options. While i’m not a fan of artificial sweeteners they can act as the lesser of two evils and help you make real change in your physique and health.
Water enhancers act as a portable artificial flavoring for your water. They typically come in a small bottle convenient for when you're on the go. When you're thirsty you can pull out the bottle and put a few drops of the artificial flavored sweeter into your water. It is best for those who are looking for a way to stop drinking their calories. While I don’t recommend artificial sweeteners I acknowledge it's a likely a better alternative than drinking a soda or other SSB.
Low Calorie Drinks
Again, most low calorie or diet drinks remove the sugar and calories by adding in an artificial flavor or sweetener. So if you're looking to lose weight but are unwilling to quit the soft drinks for good these may serve as an alternative.
Do not however take these low calorie or diet drinks as a free pass to have as much as you like. But on occasion if it helps you avoid the sugary stuff, go for it.
Some options may include diet drinks, but there are also a new wave of low cal flavored waters which are tasty as well.
One brand that I suggest to clients when the other options aren't sticking are Core infused fruit water. You can check them out here.
What to do if you are going to drink a sugary beverage?
If you're going to drink a sweetened beverage then here are a few tips to limit its negative effects
Limit the quantities
Living a healthy life doesn't mean living an unenjoyable one. While I recommend the above options, every so often you're going to want to have a beverage that you really enjoy. The best thing you can do is limit how much you have. Aim for a nice 8oz glass and enjoy it mindfully instead of the 24oz+ super size containers.
Have it with a meal
Eating a meal that has proteins and healthy fats will slow the digestion of the drink. This will ensure the drink doesn't spike your blood sugar as it would if consumed alone.
Adjust your total intake
If you're going to be drinking your calories then adjust your total intake for the day. This might mean removing a snack or reducing how much you eat at each meal.
Use around workout times
If you're tired before a workout then something sweet can help give you a boost in energy. After a workout your body can tolerate carbs better so the sugar is more likely to replenish the muscles than to be stored as fat. While working out helps, don’t use it as a free pass to eat or drink garbage.
Aim for nutritional value
If you're going to drink your calories at least choose an option with some nutritional value. Opt for a smoothie(preferably with protein) over having a soda.
Don't drink your calories, especially if it's a sugar sweetened beverage. Not only do these beverage make you fat but they also make you sick. Instead opt for some of the options I suggest above. The act of removing sugary beverages is a simple change that can yield big results on your health and your waistline.