Last week, the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics announced that on average children consume enough sugary drinks each year to fill a small bathtub. For children, and many adults, excess sugar consumption is not found in what they eat, but in what they drink.
It’s widely understood that pop is bad for you, but did you know juice and sports drinks have just as much sugar—and sometimes more sugar—than your favorite bubbly soda? Oftentimes, we discuss sugar in terms of desserts or soft drinks, but you should also take a closer look and reconsider your diet if you consume juices and sports drinks—even if they are marketed as “healthy” options.
As an example, a 12 ounce can of Coca Cola consists of 140 calories and 40 grams of sugar. The same serving size for apple juice includes 165 calories and 39 grams of sugar. A 12 ounce serving of orange juice consists of 165 calories and 35 grams of sugar. How could this be? Apples and oranges are healthy, right?
When purchasing beverages for you and your family, make sure to take a look at the nutrition label and take special note of the sugar content. It takes about two to four oranges to make one cup of juice. With no added sugars, this results in one cup of orange juice averaging 23 grams of sugar. In contrast, one orange has 9 to 12 grams of sugar.
Medical, dental, and nutrition professionals recommend consuming the whole food instead of the modified option—juice in this case. This is because a whole food is more nutrient dense. Orange juice contains minimal fiber. When eating an orange, however, sugar is bound in fibrous structures that break down slowly during digestion leaving our stomachs feeling full. With juice, we consume a lot of sugar in a short amount of time without the fulfilling feeling that you receive from eating an orange.
Sports drinks are concerning because they are aggressively marketed as a healthy and “must-have” option for active kids and adults. In reality, sports drinks are sugar water with some added electrolytes. Again, take a look at the nutrition label. Unless you are training for a marathon (who would do that?!), water is the healthiest option during and after activities.
Juice and sports drinks in small amounts are no issue for healthy people, but they can be very concerning for those who are overweight or who have diet-related metabolic issues. From a dental perspective, because the juice is in liquid form, the sugar can get in all of the nooks and crannies of your mouth causing cavities to start in between the teeth where only x-rays can find them. In addition, juice is highly acidic, which breaks down enamel—the strong material that protects the rest of the tooth.
Does this mean you can never have juice or your favorite sports drink? Absolutely not! As a dental professional who cares about your nutrition, the goal is to make sure you are eating a well-rounded, sustainable diet that emphasizes whole foods. In other words, eat your sugars from natural, whole foods—don’t drink them!
Mark Scallon, DDS