The health hazards of drinking sugar sweetened beverages like sodas and sugary fruit drinks is no secret. In fact, a Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity study found that a majority of Americans understand that soda is bad for them. But despite this, a Gallup poll reveals that 48 percent of surveyed Americans -- nearly half! -- drink soda on a daily basis. What's more, among those who drank soda, the average daily intake was 2.6 glasses per day.
Rates of soda consumption were higher with young adults -- 56 percent of those 18 to 34 admitted to guzzling the sweet stuff. And that shouldn't come as a total surprise: we already know that soda is the largest source of sugar in the diet of children and adolescents.
Of note, though soda consumption is linked to obesity, there was no difference in the self-reported weights of those who drank soda daily and those who did not, reported MSNBC. In both groups, an average 40 percent reported being somewhat or very overweight. The researchers attributed this, to some extent, to the lack of distinction between full-calorie and diet sodas in the survey.
But when it comes to sugar sweetened beverages, it isn't just the additional calories that are problematic. A diet high in added sugar -- particularly liquid sugar -- has been associated with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome and with higher rates of Type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, insulin resistance and cardiovascular difficulties. And some research suggests that high-fructose corn syrup, the sweetener used in most soda, is particularly associated with increased body fat. As HuffPost Healthy Living blogger Dr. Mark Hyman explained:
HFCS is absorbed more rapidly than regular sugar, and it doesn't stimulate insulin or leptin production. This prevents you from triggering the body's signals for being full and may lead to overconsumption of total calories.
The survey was conducted earlier this month, between July 9 and 12, among a random, representative sample of 1,000 adults within the United States. All survey interviews happened via telephone.
Having trouble kicking the sweet stuff? Here are some healthier alternatives:
Commercial brands deliver a calorie-free water with a hint of anything from cucumber to lemon to blueberry -- but these sips are just as easy (and less expensive) to make at home. Simply cut up your favorite fruit or vegetable and leave in a pitcher of water for at least three hours, according to Martha Stewart's recipe. You can also add herbs like mint or rosemary for an extra flavor punch.
This iced treat is an easy way to control the terms of your tea: caffeinated varieties like black, green and white tea make nice, strong iced teas -- but herbal options also abound for those of you who care to stay caffeine-free. Simply brew a strong tea -- if you like your drinks sweet, add a hint of honey. Leave in the refrigerator until cool and then pour over ice. Or try one of Eating Well's healthy iced tea recipes. The tea also delivers a burst of polyphenols -- an antioxidant found in tea tannins -- that can help stave off some cancers and regulate cholesterol.
NYU nutritionist and HuffPost Healthy Living contributor Lisa Young recommends adding a splash of juice to plain seltzer for a jazzed up treat. "It beats sugar in sodas!" she told The Huffington Post. Unconvinced? Read this ode to the mix.
This fermented tea has gained popularity in recent years for its purported health benefits (for more on that, see Nutrition and Fitness Editor Meredith Melnick's 'buch explainer), and while those remain controversial, there is no denying that the drink is low-calorie, low-sugar, low-caffeine and hydrating.
For those who get a kick from caffeine, flavored water just can't beat a Diet Coke. That's where iced coffee comes in: highly adaptable (add or skip the sugar! use dairy milk or a substitute like almond!), relatively inexpensive and with a strong, almost caramel-like flavor, a cold, eye-popping coffee can serve as a lower sugar alternative to your favorite soda. And research shows that coffee may have health benefits that extend well beyond weight management: helping to protect against several types of cancer, Type 2 diabetes and more.
Flavored seltzer can stave off cravings for the sweeter stuff. Although they are low-calorie and caffeine-free, they are full of flavors like raspberry, lemon-lime or black cherry and are just as refreshing.
Unlike bottled varieties, freshly juiced fruits and vegetables have no added sugar. By selecting the ingredients, you can also control sugar portions by tempering sweet fruits like mangoes, grapes and melons with low-sugar, high-fiber fare such as kale, celery and lettuce.