Sugar-Sweetened Swaps
Ashley Jowett
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2021

Sugar-Sweetened Swaps

As a registered dietitian, I see how small changes can make a big difference over time. One of my favorite recommendations for those hoping to improve their health is to “rethink your drink.” Many Americans get a hefty dose of added sugar from the beverages they consume. Over time, too many sugary drinks, along with other food choices, can add up to serious health problems, like weight gain and obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases, non-alcoholic liver disease, and tooth decay. Here are some ideas to help evaluate and improve what you’re drinking. 

Journal your beverages. Registered dietitians understand that logging what you consume is a powerful way to bring those choices into your consciousness. You might be drinking more sugar-sweetened beverages than you think. Try writing down everything that you drink for a few days to a few weeks.

Check the labels. Added sugar comes in many forms: brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, and sucrose. And it is hiding all over the beverage and juice aisles at your supermarket, even in beverages that purport to be healthy, like sports and health drinks. Check the ingredient labels to know what you are getting, for sure.

Don’t panic. If you are drinking one or more sugar-sweetened beverage a day, you are not alone. Americans get most of the added sugars in their diets from drinks. It is so easy to consume too much sugar in this form. Luckily, there are many ways to help reverse the trend and begin making healthier choices.

Try a swap. Depending on your sweetened beverage of choice, you can choose any number of alternatives. If you like coffee with sugar, try an herbal tea. Many contain cinnamon or other herbs that will surprise you with how much good calorie-free sweetness they have to offer.  If you like soda, try flavored seltzers. They offer the same fizz as a soda without the added sugar. If you need a little more sweet to start with, mixing seltzer with some 100% juice might satisfy.

Use caution with artificial sweeteners. It is tempting to swap out all of your sugar-sweetened beverages with those that contain artificial sweeteners, like aspartame, cyclamates, saccharin, acesulfame-k, or sucralose. While the scientists are split regarding whether these ingredients are harmful, we can be certain that all natural options like water or those that contain nutrients, like non-fat milk or milk alternatives, are healthier and more satisfying.

Retrain your palate. While many people unaccustomed to drinking water might find it unappetizing at first, with a little effort, you can retrain your palate. For instance, try reducing the amount of juice you add to your seltzer slowly over time. Once you’ve reduced it substantially, you might find that you can substitute a squeeze of lemon or a splash of probiotic-rich raw apple cider vinegar for flavor. Endless combinations of fruit-infused water can be interesting, delicious, and refreshing. After as little as a few weeks without a sugar-sweetened or artificially sweetened beverage, they may not taste as good to you as they once did.

Moderation is an option. If you find it difficult to abandon sugar-sweetened or artificially sweetened drinks entirely, you may find it more beneficial to reduce your intake to one or two a week. When you do have a sweet drink, put other tasks aside, take your time, and really enjoy it. Consuming your beverage mindfully will help you recognize that it is a special, once-in-a-while treat.

Depending on how many sugary drinks you typically have, this one change could relate to significant weight loss and health improvement, even if you don’t change much else about your diet or lifestyle.

Kristin Irace, RD, is a registered dietitian at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington.

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