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Give sugar-sweetened beverages the boot

Sugary beverages like soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, iced tea, lemonade, and many juices taste good and can be enjoyed every now and then. But research shows that Americans are consuming more than what’s recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These drinks, sometimes called sugar-sweetened beverages, might include brown sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, corn sweetener, fructose, sucrose, glucose or cane sugar.

“They’re a major source of added sugar in our diets, which can contribute to weight gain, obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, heart disease, non-alcoholic liver disease (fatty liver) high triglycerides, high insulin levels and kidney disease,” said Geisinger clinical dietician Janet Milner.

Rather than drinking empty calories that aren’t contributing to your health, swap them out for healthier options. Try drinking water with a straw to consume more overall, and drink water when taking medication or vitamins.

  1. Fruit juice: Apple, orange or grape juice is a delicious and nutritious way to start your day. But many juices are disguised as healthy when they are loaded with sugar. Stay away from drinks labeled “juice drink,” “juice beverage,” “juice punch” or “juice cocktail,” which contain added sugar. Instead, look for drinks with 100% juice and drink them in moderation.
    “Even 100% juice drinks include natural sugar along with those vitamins and nutrients, so it’s best to minimize how much you drink. A portion is a half-cup, when most of us enjoy more. A cup of juice contains about 30 grams of sugar,” said Milner. “Water is always a better option.”
  2. Specialty coffee drinks: If your morning coffee includes caramel, vanilla-flavored syrup or chocolate sauce and is finished with whipped cream, you may be adding 20 to 40 grams of sugar before you even eat breakfast. Be aware of flavored creamers as well.
    Instead, change your order to coffee with non- or low-fat milk and, if you absolutely need a little bit of sweetness, try adding your own sugar, honey, cinnamon or a natural sweetener like stevia.
    “Adding your own sugar helps you control how much you’re consuming. Try cutting the amount down each time,” Milner said.
  3. Water with added vitamins: While it might seem like drinking water with added vitamins and flavor can boost your immune system, these drinks pack more than just some extra vitamin C. They also add just as much sugar to your diet as a can of soda. Always check the label for serving size. Replace this juice disguised as water with a zero-calorie option sweetened with natural sweeteners.
    “Water is healthier than those with added vitamins and flavor because it’s zero-calorie, and you can easily get the same vitamins from fresh fruits and vegetables. Try eating your fruit rather than drinking it, which aids in healthy digestion,” Milner said.
  4. Lemon, peach or other fruit-flavored tea: Iced tea is refreshing on a hot day, especially with added fruit flavors. However, a 16-oz bottle of lemon-flavored tea clocks in at 44 grams of sugar.
    Try brewing your favorite tea and adding a slice of lime, lemon, cucumber, peach, mango or blueberries. You’ll get some of the fruit flavor without all the added sugar. Try taking a flavored tea bag of your liking and add to your water bottle.
  5. Soda: Yes, soda is crisp, and it’s a good way to break up the monotony of water. But it provides no nutritional value. One can of cola contains 41 grams of sugar, which contributes to 164 calories.
    Unfortunately, diet soda isn’t much better. Several studies suggest that drinking soda with artificial sweeteners also contributes to obesity, as well as tooth decay and thinning bones. Instead of cola, replace your soda with sparkling water. This alternative still offers effervescence and some natural fruit flavor, but it’s calorie-free.
    “If you must occasionally try something a little sweeter, choose a smaller portion such as a 12 oz. can rather than a common 20 oz. bottle or 24 oz. fountain soda,” said Milner.
  6. Sport drinks: These were designed for athletes and contain sugar and minerals to assist in hydrating the body while exercising. Today, many people are drinking these beverages daily as they enjoy the flavor. Rule of thumb: if you are exercising less than an hour, water is best. Most of these products are available in reduced calorie/sugar options. 

Janet Milner RDN, LDN, is a clinical dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Geisinger. To schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian nutritionist, please call 800-275-6401.


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