One of the simplest things you can do to change your health and waistline is avoiding sugary drinks. Liquid calories in general are a bad idea if you are trying to lose weight because they are easy to consume in large quantities. In addition, most drinks sweetened with sugar provide zero to little nutrition.
What are sugary drinks?
In general, any beverages that contain sweeteners with calories are considered sugary drinks. I like to go one step further and include all drinks that contain a significant amount of sugar, whether it’s naturally occurring or added. This is because, as said before, liquid calories are easy to over-consume and can become an issue for some people.
The main categories of sugary drinks are: cordials, fruit drinks, fruit juices, vegetable juices, flavoured mineral water, vitamin waters, soft drinks, energy drinks and sports drinks. The difference between a fruit drink and a fruit juice is that the former is water with the addition of fruit juice. With the exception of fruit and vegetable juices, none of these are recommended for daily consumption in the Australian Dietary Guidelines (1).
The problem with sugary drinks
There is evidence that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with:
- Increased risk of weight gain in adults and children due to excessive energy intake
- Increased risk of tooth decay due to the acidity in carbonated beverages and the sugar that promotes bacterial growth
- Increased risk of reduced bone strength (1)
Sugary drinks can lead to overweight, obesity and issues with blood sugar control. Therefore, people with metabolic and cardiovascular conditions should avoid drinking them. These health issues include diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, hypertension, heart disease, stroke.
Nutrition in sugary drinks
Sugar-sweetened beverages contain mainly water and sugar. Some may contain vitamins and minerals, which are often added and may not remain by the time of consumption. Sugar, as any other carbohydrate, provides 17 kJ/g (4 kcal/g). The table below shows the energy and sugar content (measured in teaspoons) per 100g of each beverage (2). Note that most bottles contain 375-600ml (~375-600g) of beverage. You can do the math.
How much are we drinking?
Sugary drinks are the largest source of sugars in the Australian diet. Adolescents and children are the biggest consumers of these beverages (1).
The most consumed sweetened beverages, by far, are soft drinks. Fruit and vegetable juices and drinks come second, followed by cordials, energy and sports drinks. In all cases, males consume a larger volume than females. See graph below for details (3).
Within each category, the most consumed beverages are:
- Fruit and vegetable juices/drinks: commercial fruit juices
- Cordials: made from concentrate
- Soft drinks and flavoured mineral waters: cola soft drinks
- Electrolyte, energy and fortified drinks: sports drinks (3)
How much should we drink?
Unless you are an athlete with high carbohydrate requirements, you don’t really need to drink sugar-sweetened beverages. The bulk of your fluid intake should be plain water, followed by unsweetened beverages. Diet soft drinks might be better than sugar-sweetened ones but they are not necessarily a healthy option.
- National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council; 2013.
- Food Standards Australia New Zealand. AUSNUT 2011–13 – Australian Food Composition Database. 2014 [Available from: www.foodstandards.gov.au].
- Australian Bureau of Statistics 2014, Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results – Foods and Nutrients, 2011–12, ‘Table 5: Mean daily food intake’, data cube: Excel spreadsheet, cat. no. 43640DO005_20112012, viewed 05 January 2018, http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/subscriber.nsf/log?openagent&Table%205%20Mean%20daily%20food%20intake.xls&4364.0.55.007&Data%20Cubes&CC1E70251B0897A3CA257CD200146E0B&0&2011-12&09.05.2014&Latest