Extension@YourService: The truth about drinks

Sarah Mammarella, Cooperative Extension Nutrition Agent

September 19, 2013

By now, most Americans have heard of the health consequences of drinking sugary drinks such as soda, sweetened tea, energy drinks, and coffee drinks. However, people are still consuming these beverages in mass amounts. Half of all Americans consume at least one sugary drink per day, which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 26 percent and having a heart attack by 20 percent. What’s more, children in the U.S. average over 11 percent of their daily calories from sweetened drinks (about 225 calories), dramatically increasing their likelihood of becoming obese.

As a dietitian, I often get asked if a better alternative to sweetened drinks are diet drinks or drinks sweetened with low-calorie or artificial sweeteners. Recently, there has been a lot of hype about whether these drinks are safe or not. Many people even say that these drinks are more harmful than regular sweetened drinks-causing cancer or increased appetite. However, these claims are strictly opinion. There is no research that has shown that artificial sweeteners are harmful to adults or children in any way. Additionally, artificial sweeteners and low-calorie sweeteners are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and deemed Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). Because artificial sweeteners are much sweeter than regular sugar, it only takes a small amount to equal the sweetness of sugar- so many of us consume very little. Artificial or low-calorie sweeteners are a great alternative to sugar because they don’t cause cavities or give us excess calories.

Although artificially sweetened drinks are safe for adults and children, the best thing that any of us can drink is water. The Institute of Medicine recommends that men get 13 cups and women get 9 cups of water daily. We need water to survive, as it makes up about 75 percent of our total body weight. It is also recommended that those who exercise drink water, and only drink a “sports” drink when exercising intensely for more than an hour. Not only is water great for us, it is also cost efficient. Water will cost you nearly nothing when eating out or hanging out at home. Other healthy drinks are low-fat milk and 100 percent fruit juice. However, be careful how much of these you drink, as they are full of calories as well.

The Richmond County Cooperative Extension’s goal is to provide the residents of the community with research-based knowledge. For more information on health, wellness and/or nutrition please contact Family & Consumer Sciences Agent, Sarah Mammarella, MS, RD, LDN at 910-997-8255.