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Sugar-Sweetened Drinks Are A Tasty Treat That Can Be A Health Risk, If You're Not Careful


Sugar-sweetened beverages are leading sources of added sugars in the American diet, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But many aren't aware just how much sugar is in every swallow. Too much can lead to health problems. 

Treating yourself every now and then in an otherwise healthy diet is not a bad thing. But Melissa Mendez, a registered dietitian with Parkland Hospital System, says you have to be careful with sugary drinks.

“They contribute a lot of empty calories, which are calories that don’t contribute any vitamins, any minerals, anything positive to our diet.”

Too many of those empty calories can ultimately lead to obesity or diabetes. Mendez says you’re much better off with healthier choices like 1 percent or skim milk, fruit juices in small quantities and, of course, water.

Interview Highlights

Where empty calories come from: If we’re getting a drink that has a lot of whole milk in it, it could be saturated fats that we’re getting. And if it’s a sugary beverage, it could be the sugar that we’re getting. And if it’s whole milk, I could be raising my cholesterol intake. So we’re consuming these beverages and we see weight gain and an increase in the risk of diabetes.

Sugary drinks to watch out for:

  • Lattes or any coffee beverage: We could be getting the whole milk; they add sugar to it. The pumps of vanilla could also have sugar. Some have the chocolate drizzle, the caramel on top. There could be hundreds of calories that I’m consuming in just one small beverage.
  • Soda: Soda’s going to have a lot of sugar. Just empty calories there.
  • Fruit juices: It’s always important to look at the ingredient list because most of the time it’s water, sugar, food coloring, and they could put "fruit juice" on the front. The important thing is to select the bottle that says "100 percent juice." The recommendation would be four ounces of juice. You could have two to four portions of fruit a day, so one portion would be four ounces of juice. The pulp in juice provides some fiber, but eating the real thing is the best option.
  • Bottled or canned iced tea: The biggest thing again is the sugar. So we can definitely have unsweetened tea. There are benefits for antioxidants. However, it’s when we add the sugar that becomes the issue.

Healthier beverage choices: We still need our dairy products. I’d recommend 1 percent milk, skim milk and juice, depending on how much you drink. Water’s always the best option.


Interview responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.