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4 Beverages to Avoid

Unless you want to add unnecessary calories and sugars to your diet, avoid these common, popular drinks.

Whether you are watching your weight or just want to eat healthier, taking a look at what you drink is key. Empty calories can lurk in all types of beverages - especially these:

1.   Coffee drinks with extras such as sugar or flavored syrup. These deliver a concentrated dose of quick-digesting carbohydrates that can lead to weight gain. A better option is a plain coffee with a little half-and-half, or, better yet, enjoy antioxidant-rich green tea instead of coffee.

2.   Frothy summer cocktails. Whether it's a margarita or a piña colada, sugary drinks pack a double dose of calories due to alcohol and sugar - some can top 800 calories in one drink! A better option is a glass of red wine (60-100 calories), a light beer (about 100 calories) or spirits with club soda and a lime.

3.   Juice and non-juice "juice drinks." These products are no better than drinking sugared water. If you want to enjoy the juice of a fruit, it’s best fresh, not bottled, and made partially or wholly from vegetables rather than entirely from fruits. If you consume fruit juice, I recommend adding purified or sparkling water to reduce the sugar content. 

4.   Soda. There just isn't anything nutritious about soda, whether it's diet or regular. If you're a soda addict, breaking the habit is among the best moves you can make for your weight and your health. Consider switching to sparkling water with a slice of citrus.

Don't miss my next post when we cover four healthy beverages.

Soda Tax Passes, More to Come?

Berkeley, Calif., voters gave a big win to a penny-per-ounce tax on sodas in the November 4 election. They approved the tax by a margin of three-to-one despite big spending by the beverage industry, which poured $2.1 million into an effort to defeat the tax. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg supported the Berkeley soda tax with a $650,000 contribution to help finance the ballot initiative. A soda tax was also on the ballot in San Francisco, where it passed by a majority, 54.5 percent, but this fell short of the two-thirds vote needed to approve the tax. The passage of the Berkeley soda tax is considered likely to spur other localities in California and the Pacific Northwest to impose similar soda taxes. In other food-related electoral news, efforts to require labeling of GMO foods were defeated in Oregon and Colorado after a campaign in which the food industry spent a reported $60 million to oppose the labeling initiative.

My take? I think a tax on sodas is a worthwhile experiment. We know that raising taxes on cigarettes has deterred use, especially among young people. Berkeley, Calif., has long been ahead of the curve on common-sense public health measures, such as smoke-free areas in bars and restaurants, so it isn't a big surprise that it took the lead here as well. However, I'm still not convinced a soda tax will pick up sufficient public and legislative backing to be enacted nationwide. As far as GMO labeling is concerned, I support it simply because I believe people have the right to know what their foods and supplements contain.

Drinking Soda May Accelerate Aging

We know that habitually sipping sugary sodas can lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, but new research suggests that consuming sugar-sweetened drinks daily may have a negative effect on telomeres, the repeating DNA sequences at the ends of chromosomes that shorten with age. Investigators from the University of California, San Francisco looked at telomeres in the white blood cells of stored DNA from 5,309 individuals who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999-2002. They calculated that the telomere shortening observed among individuals who consumed one 20-ounce soda daily was comparable to the effect of smoking. Over time, these changes were associated with 4.6 years of additional biological aging. In addition to the link between short telomeres and decreased human lifespan, the length of telomeres within white blood cells has been associated with development of heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer. Study leader Elissa Epel, Ph.D., noted that the association between drinking sugar-sweetened soda and telomere shortening "held regardless of age, race, income and education level."

My take? These new findings don't surprise me. Earlier research has shown that drinking a single sugar-containing soda per day is linked to weight gain. A daily soda habit also increases a woman's risk of developing diabetes by 83 percent compared to women who have less than one sweetened drink per month. Sodas of any kind don't belong in a healthy, well-balanced diet. Opt instead for filtered water, tea or sparkling water mixed with natural fruit juice.

More Worries About Diet Drinks

Middle-aged women who consume more than two diet drinks a day may be setting themselves up for heart attacks, stroke or other cardiovascular problems according to research results presented at the March 29-31 scientific meeting of the American College of Cardiology. The new findings come from a study including nearly 60,000 postmenopausal women who described their weekly consumption of diet sodas and diet fruit drinks over a three-month period. Analysis of the data gathered showed that women who consumed two or more drinks a day were 30 percent more likely to develop a cardiovascular problem and 50 percent more likely to die from a heart-related disease than women who rarely or never drank diet beverages. The researchers determined after nearly nine years of follow up that 8.5 percent of the women who drank the most diet drinks developed cardiovascular conditions compared to 6.9 percent of those who reported having five to seven diet drinks per week, 6.8 percent of those who had one to four diet drinks per week, and 7.2 percent of those who had zero to three of these drinks per month. The findings persisted even after researchers adjusted for smoking, BMI, hormone therapy use, physical activity, diabetes, high blood pressure and other risks for cardiovascular disease. Women who had a history of cardiovascular disease were not included in the study.

My take? This isn’t the first bad news about diet drinks. In 2012, a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that the risk of heart attack and stroke or other vascular event was 43 percent higher among individuals who had a daily diet soda habit than those who didn’t consume these drinks, or who did so infrequently. Research at Harvard has suggested that drinking two or more diet sodas daily is associated with a decline in a measure of kidney function in women, and a Danish study found that the risk of giving birth prematurely increased by 38 percent among women who drank diet soda daily and by 78 percent among those who drank four or more diet sodas per day. There’s also evidence linking diet sodas to weight gain. Over the course of nine years, epidemiologists at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio found a 70 percent greater increase in weight circumference among participants in a study of aging who drank diet soda compared to those who didn’t. Bottom line: sodas, and diet sodas in particular, have no place in a healthy diet.

Ankur Vyas et al,  "Too many diet drinks may spell heart trouble for older women, study suggests." American College of Cardiology, March 29-31, 2014.

Warning Labels for Sweet Drinks?

Would you support mandatory warning labels on sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks similar to the warnings on cigarette packs? In California, legislation proposed on February 13 would require placing warning labels on all bottles and cans of sweet drinks providing 75 or more calories in every 12 ounces. The labels would read as follows: "STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay." This isn’t the first effort of this type: the Associated Press reported a similar bill was introduced in Vermont in 2013 but has been held in committee. At California fast-food restaurants with self-serve soda dispensers, the label would be on the dispenser, according to the Los Angeles Times, while in movie theaters or businesses where the drink dispenser is behind the counter and drinks are served by employees, the warning labels would be placed on the counters. In restaurants, the warning may be required on menus, the Times reported.

My take? The California effort seems to echo the failed proposal by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to ban the sale of large-size sugary drinks sold in delis, fast-food outlets, carts on the city's sidewalks and in its parks, movie theaters and sports arenas. I’ll be interested to see what happens to the California legislation. I'm in favor of experimenting with ways of encouraging people to make better food choices and discouraging them from making worse ones, and sugary drinks are certainly not good choices. Although these drinks are not the only contributor to the obesity epidemic in the United States, they are a major source of the average intake of 355 calories of sugar per person per day. That amounts to 22 teaspoons of sugar daily. A single 12-ounce soda contains about 130 calories and the equivalent of eight teaspoons of sugar. Moreover, the high glycemic load of sugary drinks provokes insulin resistance in many people, which underlies much of the obesity in our society and raises risks of type 2 diabetes.

Patrick McGreevy, “California lawmaker proposes adding health warning labels to sodas,” Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2014, accessed February 14, 2014,,0,7510007.story#ixzz2tQMX1qvj

What Sugary Sodas Can Do to Your Kidneys

A study from Japan suggests sweetened sodas increase the risk of kidney diseaseA study from Japan suggests another reason to avoid sweetened sodas: an increased risk of kidney disease. More than 12,000 employees at a Japanese university had their urine tested for the presence of protein as part of their annual check-ups. Protein in the urine can be an early – but reversible – indication of kidney damage. The researchers found that nearly 11 percent of the employees who reported drinking two or more soft drinks daily had protein in their urine during three years of follow up. By comparison, protein was found in the urine of just 8.4 percent of the employees who drank no sodas, and in about 9 percent of those who reported drinking about one can per day. In addition to kidney disease, protein in the urine can also be a very early indication of heart disease, stroke and heart failure. The study results were presented on November 9, 2013 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Nephrology. An earlier study, published in 2007, found that drinking two or more colas a day - diet or regular - was linked to twice the normal risk of chronic kidney disease. The same risk was not observed for carbonated beverages other than colas.

T.M. Saldana et al, “Carbonated beverages and chronic kidney disease,” Epidemiology, July 2007

Would a Soda Tax Reduce Obesity?

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to limit the size of sodas sold in his cityNew York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to limit the size of sodas sold in his city was nixed by a judge (a court challenge is in the works), but now researchers from Britain’s Oxford University and the University of Reading have come up with a plan they think can help stem the obesity epidemic in the U.K.: a 20 percent tax on sugar sweetened drinks. In an editorial published in the journal BMJ the researchers estimated that the tax would reduce sales of these drinks significantly and cut the obesity rate by 1.3 percent. That would mean 180,000 fewer obese adults in the U.K., which has the dubious distinction of being the fattest country in Europe. The researchers said the biggest impact would be on soft drink junkies under age 30. Meanwhile, the Mexican Congress has approved new taxes on sweet drinks and junk food that will amount to one peso (about 8 cents) per liter on soft drinks and an 8 percent sales tax on high-calorie foods, including potato chips, sweets and cereal, the New York Times reported. The lawmakers noted the new taxes (to be signed into law in January 2014) were needed to help combat Mexico’s rising rates of obesity and diabetes, as well as to increase revenue. Reportedly, the British researchers weren’t optimistic that a tax on sugar sweetened drinks would be approved by Parliament - last year, a proposal to tax the meat pie, a British pub classic, was tabled.

Mike Rayner et al, “Overall and income specific effect on prevalence of overweight and obesity of 20% sugar sweetened drink tax in UK: econometric and comparative risk assessment modelling study,” BMJ doi: