Rethink your drink

Sweetened beverages not what they used to be

by Susan Clark, RDH, OM

The history of soda can be traced back to the mineral water found in natural springs. Bathing in natural mineral water was thought to have curative powers. When scientists discovered that carbon dioxide was behind the bubbles in natural mineral water, researchers began to create a health drink from the natural mineral waters.v

The first noncarbonated soft drink made from water and lemon juice sweetened with honey appeared in the 17th century. It wasn't until 1832 that these carbonated beverages achieved popularity in America and pharmacists began selling unflavored mineral water mixed with medicinal and flavorful herbs, birch bark, dandelion, sarsaparilla, and fruit extracts.

Today, sweetened beverages contain added caloric sweeteners such as sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, or fruit juice concentrates. These beverages include soft drinks, carbonated soft drinks, fruitades, fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy and vitamin water drinks, sweetened iced tea, cordials, squashes, and lemonade.

Before the 1950s, bottles were 6.5 ounces. In 1960, the 12-ounce can became widely available. By the early 1990s, 20-ounce plastic bottles became the norm. Today even larger sizes, such as the 1.25-liter (42-ounce) bottle are available.

Over the past 16 years, the amount of sugar in American diets has increased by 28%, with about a third of it coming from soft drinks. Carbonated soft drinks have become a dietary staple for millions of people. The U.S. market alone includes 450 different soft drinks. The average American consumes about 31 teaspoons of sugar per day, which equates to 496 calories – 20% of their total caloric intake. Humans were not designed to eat that much sugar, although we do it every day. These sugary foods stick to our teeth, stimulate plaque growth, promote tooth decay, and lower the pH of our saliva, creating an acid bath on the tooth enamel. In addition, sugar is a good food source for the harmful Streptococcus mutans bacteria in our mouths.

There are approximately 40 grams of sugar, which equates to eight to 10 teaspoons of sugar in just one can of soda. If you were to drink one can of Coke every day for one week, you would receive 70 teaspoons of sugar that week – just from the soda!

There is a direct correlation between soft drink consumption and long-term weight gain and cardiovascular disease risk. Diabetes goes hand-in-hand with obesity and high levels of sugar consumption. Sugary drinks increase the level of fasting glucose and insulin resistance – two signs of prediabetes. Consumption of aspartame in diet soda can have an ill effect on fasting glucose levels, though that research is not yet conclusive.

In addition, increased sugar intake depletes the body of important vitamins and minerals, especially the calcium and phosphates that are the building blocks for strong enamel. Sugar raises blood pressure, triglycerides, and LDL (the bad cholesterol). Sugar is also a good food source for the yeast Candida, which could lead to an infection.

Increasingly popular with middle- and high-school students are sports and energy drinks, which can include anything from sports beverages and vitamin waters to "high-energy" supplement drinks. Energy drinks allege to boost mental or physical energy. Most energy drinks deliver a stiff dose of sugar and caffeine, sometimes with as much caffeine as three cups of coffee. Many also contain sugar or other sweeteners, herbal extracts, and amino acids and may or may not be carbonated. Consumption of a single energy drink will not lead to excessive caffeine intake, but consumption of two or more drinks in a single day can.

Many fruit juices have a higher sugar fructose content than sweetened soft drinks. High-fructose corn syrup is a corn syrup that has undergone an enzymatic process to increase its fructose levels. It is then mixed with pure corn syrup (100% glucose) to arrive at its final form. Fructose has a low glycemic index of 19, but don't be deceived. Fructose is more readily metabolized to form triglycerides in the liver, which can raise triglyceride levels in the blood.

Even with no sugar added, fruit juice contains about the same amount of sugar as a soft drink, because apples, oranges, and grapes are naturally full of sugar.

Drink Mountain Dew? There are 46 grams of sugar in an eight-ounce can, 170 calories, and 46 grams of carbohydrates. Besides high-fructose corn syrup, citric acid is added for flavoring, which lowers the pH of the mouth to 3.3. It is then mixed with pure corn syrup (100% glucose) to arrive at its final form. The best thing you can do with a bottle of Mountain Dew is to make a glow stick. Leave a quarter of Mountain Dew in the bottle, add a tiny bit of baking soda and three capfuls of hydrogen peroxide, put the lid on, and shake. It makes a great school science project for your young children or grandchildren!

SO why do our bodies crave sugar?

Some of us crave sugar due to adrenal fatigue or low adrenal function. The adrenal glands secrete chemicals that provide us with energy. Stress, lack of sleep, or insomnia can disrupt the adrenal function of these glands and cause exhaustion. When this happens, the body looks to other sources for energy. Sugar provides this quick boost of energy for a very brief period of time. This often leads to a major sugar crash, resulting in the need for another boost, which again leads back to even more sugar.

Thirst is often misinterpreted as hunger. If you want to hydrate your body and help control hunger, drink water. Lack of hydration can cause us to feel hungry and even feed into our sugar cravings. Sugar or simple carbohydrates help release a burst of serotonin, so you feel good for a little while. But almost as quickly, you "crash" and return to your low serotonin state, and the cycle starts all over again. Ironically, the more sugar you eat, the more you crave it because overconsumption of sugar can lead to insulin resistance.

so what is the alternative?

Don't stock soda, fruit punch, and other sugary drinks in the house. This may be too much to ask of those who are soda junkies, so the next best thing would be to:

  • Reduce size of the drink bottles and cans.
  • Choose beverages with few or no calories. Water is best with a pH of 7.
  • Brew a pot of coffee or tea. Coffee minus the creamer and added sugar has a pH of 5.5. Interesting enough, brewed tea has a pH of 7.2, but over-the-counter, packaged iced tea has a pH of 3.5, due to all the additives to create a desirable flavor.
  • Drink green tea. It is full of antioxidants and has many health benefits including lowering blood pressure, assisting in weight loss, and helping to lower the risk of diabetes.
  • Spice up water without adding sugar or calories. Infuse water with cucumber, herbs, melon slices, and assorted citrus.
  • Keep a pitcher of water with ice and lemon slices in the refrigerator.
  • Drink milk. Regular milk has a pH of 6.8 and soy milk has a pH of 7.
  • Try calorie-free flavored waters and seltzers if you really need something with a boost of flavor.

SodaStream has a home carbonating system. Transform ordinary tap water into fresh, great-tasting soda by adding fizz (in the form of carbon dioxide from a SodaStream carbonator), and add a syrup flavor. They have regular, diet, and caffeine-free options. Their regular flavors contain less sugar, calories, carbohydrates, and sodium than national drink brands, and do not contain any high-fructose corn syrup. Their diet flavors are said to contain no aspartame and are sweetened with a blend of acesulfame potassium and sucralose, also known as Splenda.

Coca-Cola is introducing its Dasani Drops, a fruity flavored drop you add to water. This is not a new concept: flavored drops were first introduced by Kraft Food, Inc., in 2011. These portable containers are becoming popular because they travel well, and unlike powdered drink packaging, individuals can decide how much or little they want to add to their water. These products claim to use artificial sweeteners and have zero calories.

After much protest from dental professionals and parents, in 2006, Cadbury Schweppes, Coke, and Pepsi agreed to halt nearly all soda sales in public schools. In 2009, elementary and middle schools began selling only water and juice (with no added sweeteners), plus fat-free and low-fat milk. Unfortunately, some high schools continue to sell sports drinks and diet soda.

Being a native New Yorker, I would be remiss to not mention that as of September 12, 2012, the New York City Health Department became the first in the nation to ban the sale of sugared beverages larger than 16 ounces at restaurants, mobile food carts, sports arenas, and movie theaters. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has a reputation for taking aggressive steps to improve the health of New Yorkers, made a bold statement and should be praised. Perhaps this will lead to more health departments taking a stand again obesity, an increase in the rate of diagnosed diabetes, and other health concerns.

Like any other addiction, making healthier choices is not easy, but can be done with a positive attitude, role models, and support of family and friends. Won't you take the leap for a healthier tomorrow and encourage others to do the same? RDH

Consider reading: An early morning quest for soda information
Consider reading: Preventing dental erosion in the pregnant patient
Consider reading: Are we ready to care for advanced periodontitis in an aging America?

SUSAN CLARK is a registered dental hygienist, orofacial myologist, key opinion leader, public speaker, and self-published author of "Exploring Dental Hygiene, Finding the Hidden Rewards." She is the current president of the San Diego County Dental Hygienists' Society, California delegate to the House of Delegates, alternate delegate to the ADHA House of Delegates, and an active member of CalHyPAC. Susan is very active in her community and charitable foundations. Visit her website at sclark.net or contact her directly at sgc31@verizon.net.

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