Liquid candy: Soda’s role in Alabama’s obesity epidemic
Apr 11, 2012 | 3698 views |  0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Photo by Trent Penny; Illustration by Bran Strickland/The Anniston Star
Photo by Trent Penny; Illustration by Bran Strickland/The Anniston Star
“Is sugar toxic?” 60 Minutes asked in a recent report.

Three researchers, writing recently in Nature magazine, floated the idea that sugary sodas are so dangerous they should be treated like alcoholic beverages, meaning underage children shouldn’t be allowed to drink them.

Here in the Southeast, we drink more soda than the rest of the country, according to the USDA’s Food Environment Atlas. (And that doesn’t factor in sweet tea.)

Residents of Calhoun Country drank an average of 74 gallons of soda — each — in 2006, according to the USDA map. That works out to about 110,000 empty calories per person.

The sugar in all this “liquid candy” is considered to be a major contributing factor to the state’s obesity crisis, which in turn has fueled the rise of Type 2 diabetes and other diseases.

— Lisa Davis
Steering your kids to better drinks

In an ideal world, kids would drink only water and milk in the quantities recommended by dietary guidelines: 16 ounces of nonfat or low-fat dairy for children ages 2 or 3; 20 ounces for children ages 4 to 8; and 24 ounces for anyone 9 and older.

But the lure of sodas, fruit drinks, sports drinks, flavored milks and flavored waters that has made sugar-sweetened beverages the leading source of added sugar in children’s diets — and, consequently, a prime culprit in tooth cavities and childhood obesity — is as unavoidable as Justin Bieber’s singing toothbrush.

How can you steer your kids toward more healthful choices? Here are some tips.

1. Practice what you preach. Pour yourself a glass of milk when you give one to your child, and don’t keep sugary drinks in the house, Dr. Mary Lou Gavin, a pediatrician specializing in weight management at Nemours/Alfred I. DuPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., and a medical editor at The younger your child is when you instill healthy habits, the easier it will be.

2. Limit fruit juice. Though it provides some nutrients, 100 percent fruit juice has loads of sugar and, being liquid, doesn’t offer the same fiber and fullness you get when you eat an actual piece of fruit, Gavin said. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 4 to 6 ounces of 100 percent fruit juice per day for children age 1 to 6, and no more than 8 to 12 ounces for kids older than 6.

3. Treat sugary drinks as dessert. Rather than ban them outright, which might make them all the more appealing, allow them as occasional treats, said Marlene Schwartz, deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and Yale University.

Visualize the sugar content. A can of full-calorie soda has 39 to 44 grams of sugar — the equivalent of 10 to 11 teaspoons of sugar, an image that just might give a kid pause, Schwartz said. Convert grams of sugar to teaspoons by dividing by 4.

4. Avoid diet drinks. Although they can be useful tools when weaning overweight or soda-addicted kids off of sugary beverages, it’s generally best not to feed kids artificial sweeteners when we don’t know their potential long-term effects, Schwartz said.

5. Interpret ingredient lists. Added sugars and artificial sweeteners can be hard to spot because they come under many names. Some common aliases for added sugar, according to the Rudd Center: high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, glucose, crystalline fructose, cane sugar. Artificial sweeteners might go by acesulfame potassium, aspartame, sucralose, stevia/rebiana.

Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, Chicago Tribune
The next big soda?

Pepsi is hoping to win back soda drinkers with a compromise.

Some people don’t like the calories in regular soda, but loathe the taste of zero-calorie diet drinks. So the nation’s No. 2 cola company is rolling out “Pepsi Next,” a cola that has about half the calories of regular Pepsi at 60 calories per can. Pepsi Next is made with a mix of three artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup.

Pepsi Next isn’t the first drink to try to hit the sweet spot between diet and regular cola. The low-calorie Dr Pepper Ten has 10 calories. Coke Zero and Pepsi Max are diet drinks that promise a taste that’s more like their regular sodas.

Gatorade has “G2,” which at 20 calories has a little less than half the calories of the original version. Tropicana’s “Trop50” has half of the 110 calories in a regular 8-ounce glass of orange juice.

But orange juice and sports drinks have nutritional benefits that a drink maker can market. A mid-calorie soda is a tougher sell because it provides only empty calories. Health-conscious drinkers usually opt for diet soda or quit soda altogether.

– Associated Press
Fun alternatives

Instead of: Store-bought flavored milk

Try: Nonfat or low-fat milk with a dollop of chocolate or strawberry syrup

Instead of: Vitamin water or flavored water

Try: Regular water with a twist of lemon or lime, or a slice of cucumber or watermelon

Instead of: Soft drinks

Try: Seltzer water with a splash of 100 percent fruit juice

Instead of: Fruit drinks, sports drinks and sweetened teas

Try: Homemade, unsweetened tea with a splash of juice

Instead of: 100 percent fruit juice

Try: A fruit smoothie with real fruit, low-fat yogurt and no added sugar

— Chicago Tribune
Soda sales dropping

Sales in the $74 billon soft drink industry have been fizzling out, with volume falling steadily since 2005, according to Beverage Digest, which tracks the industry.

• Healthier drinks are growing more popular, with bottled water accounting for 11 percent of all beverages consumed in 2010, up from 2 percent in 2000.

• Consumption of sports drink rose to 2.3 percent, from 1.2 percent.

• Diet soda also rose to 29.9 percent of the carbonated drink market in 2010, up from 24.7 percent a decade earlier.

—Associated Press
How much sugar is in that?

Orange juice (8 ounce glass) - 6 teaspoons

Vitamin Water (20 ounce bottle) - 8 teaspoons

Regular soda (12 ounce can) - 10 teaspoons

Large glass of sweet tea - 11 teaspoons
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