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There was an interesting article published in The Times this week (The fructose timebomb: it’s sweet drinks that are making our children fat | The Times).  Most of us know that fizzy drinks aren’t a healthy option. Coca Cola is my particular bugbear as it has no redeeming features – 10 teaspoons of sugar in the average can and high caffeine content to boot, but all fizzy drinks are harmful. Full of empty calories, aside from the high sugar content, they are full of artificial colours and flavourings, and many, including coca cola are high in phosphoric acid, which results in calcium being leached from the skeleton and leads to osteoporosis.

spoon of powder
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

What shocked me, after reading this article, was just how much sugar there was in seemingly healthy drinks (see chart below). My favoured smoothie bought for the children contains pretty much the same amount of sugar as coca cola. I mean, I know juices aren’t great for you, and I have been banging on about it to my children for ages, and limiting their intake as a consequence. It just doesn’t make sense that we can drink a juice in a matter of seconds with impunity when, if we actually ate the equivalent fruit from which the juice was taken, it would take us some considerable time (and our hunger would be satisfied before we finished eating). It’s just too easy to mindlessly knock back juices without considering what we are actually consuming. Moreover, as we are told that juices can count as one of our “five a day”, we believe we are actively improving our and our children’s health by doing this

How much sugar is in your drink?

Coca-Cola bottle set
Photo by Aserusainhuu on Unsplash

Average serving size: 250ml

1. Fanta 12.2g sugars / 50 kcal per 100ml
2. 7Up 11g sugars / 41 kcal per 100ml
3. Waitrose squeezed smooth orange juice 10.6g sugars / 47 kcal per 100ml
4. Coca-Cola 10.6g sugars / 42 kcal per 100ml
5. Sprite 10.55g sugars / 43.5 kcal per 100ml
6. Innocent strawberry & bananas smoothie 10.52g sugars / 53.2 kcal per 100 ml
7. Sunny Delight “California style” 8.7g sugars / 38 kcal per 100ml
8. J2O apple & mango 6.2g sugars / 27 kcal per 100ml
9. Orange Tango 4.3g sugars / 19 kcal per 100ml
10. Diet Coke 0g sugars / 0.25 kcal per 100ml

Sources: Coca-Cola; innocent; Sunny Delight; Britvic Soft Drinks; Waitrose

Dr Robert Lustig, a specialist in endocrinology, has set out to expose the sugar industry, and supports the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (ARMS) who, as an anti-obesity measure, is demanding a 20% tax on high-sugar drinks. Several countries, including France, have recently imposed a duty on sugary drinks at 20p per litre.

Dr Lustig explains why fruit juices in particular are so deleterious to health. The sugar content, or fructose (simply sugar contained in fruit, vegetables and honey), is slightly higher in, for example, orange juice, than the average fizzy drink. Fructose is metabolised by the liver, the only part of the body able to do this job. So when a fruit juice or smoothy is consumed, the liver is hit by a massive dose of sugar that it has to process. Often the body simply cannot cope with the traffic and is overloaded with toxins; this is when problems such as non-alcoholic fatty liver, cirrhosis and other liver diseases can develop.

According to Dr Lustig, fructose is the main cause of metabolic syndrome, the precursor to diabetes, which has become an epidemic along with obesity in the western world. You don’t have to be obese to get metabolic syndrome; many seemingly slender people suffer from it, and it is on the rise in tandem with our increased intake of fructose (fructose consumption has increased sixfold over the past century, according to Dr Lustig).

So, what can we drink instead of fizzy drinks and juices?

  • filtered water flavoured with slices of cucumber, lemon or orange is cooling and refreshing
  • filtered or naturally carbonated water flavoured with ginger is cleansing and warming
  • naturally carbonated water flavoured with the juice of a lime. This is very sour, but my children actually love it. An acquired taste possibly.
  • citron pressé (freshly squeezed lemon juice, diluted with filtered water).  Also very sour, obviously.
  • fruit juice diluted with filtered or naturally carbonated water (use juice like a cordial to flavour the water).
  • CherryActive  This is a cordial made from Montmorency cherries.  It has numerous health benefits, including improving sleep patterns and aiding recovery after sports. It provides a much lesser hit of fructose than other cordials and juices; check out the website to find out more. I consider it a wonder product and my children love it too.
  • Coconut water. I like Vita Coco Coconut Water which is stocked by most supermarkets. Choose the pure version, not mixed with tropical fruit juices. It is rich in potassium, very hydrating and an effective electrolyte drink that can be used to aid recovery after sport.

How can we limit the effects of fructose on the body? Use water (always filtered – tap water is full of chemicals harmful to the body) to quench thirst. Ensure that any sweet drinks are consumed after a meal to limit the sugar hit on the body. Keep juices as a treat, not as an everyday essential 1 of your “5 a day”. Remember to break the rules from time-to-time; the odd lemonade is not going to kill you.

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