HEALTH MATTERS: SUGAR-SWEETENED DRINKS, APRIL 26, 2017

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In the South, we love our sweet tea. But as a whole, Americans are consuming too much sugar, and a good portion of that comes from beverages.

A long-term sugar surplus leads to issues like obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

University Medical Center Registered Dietician Diane Henson said down here, sugar is an epidemic.

“It is not unusual to find even infants with sweet tea, sports beverages or regular sodas in their bottles,” she said. “So we have developed a group of young people who are accustomed to intensely sweetened beverages.”

Drinking so many sugar-filled beverages at a young age often means kids crave those kind of drinks over, say, water.

Nixing sugary drinks is a surefire way to get healthier, Henson said. Drinking water instead of soda means a lot fewer calories, and it means better blood sugar levels, too.

“When you consume a soda, think about what you like to eat when you drink a soda,” Henson said. “None of us craves an apple or a banana or an orange when we drink a soda. Rather, we want the salty snack foods that also have an excess of calories.”

When you get used to the sweetness of soda, it often becomes your preference over healthier beverages. That’s why Henson said she recommends parents to stay away from sweet drinks like sweet tea, sports drinks or soda. Instead, give them water or diluted juice.

Coffee or tea are healthier options, but not if you’re loading up on the sugar, milk or honey. And forget about Frappuccinos — a basic coffee-flavored Frappuccino with no whipped cream clocks in at 36 grams of sugar for a 12-ounce drink (tall size). In comparison, a 12-ounce Coca-Cola has 39 grams of sugar.

Look at the label for anything you eat or drink, Henson said. Check calories, how many servings the package contains, carbohydrates and sugars.

Always check the ingredient list too, Henson said, because some things you’ll find may surprise you.

A great example is sugar-free coffee creamer: the second ingredient is often pure sugar.

“It’s only a sugar-free coffee creamer if you consume the suggested serving size, and that’s unfortunately not what most of us do,” she said.

And a soda habit is a lot more expensive than a trip to the fridge for a glass of water. Henson said one of the patients she’s seen cut the soda and found they had a few hundred extra dollars after just one month.

Henson said the Alabama Obesity Task Force is a great resource for anyone wanting to learn more.

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