Sugar, Soda, and other Treats: What is Moderate Consumption?

There’s been a lot of controversy over the year about sugar and soda. The recent election showed that the citizens of Berkley California supported a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. The plan is to tax soda, and use that revenue to create or support health education to prevent or treat obesity. Health professionals are divided on this issue – some supporting the idea of taxing a sugary drink thinking it will curb intake and/or generate revenue for obesity treatment, but other health professionals are skeptical about whether this money will be set aside or not, and whether or not it will be properly utilized (that is, used to provide the delivery of individualized treatment by qualified nutrition professionals).

There certainly isn’t a lack of resources for exercise and healthy diet. It’s often the delivery of these services that is lacking – either it’s not covered by your insurance plan, or you aren’t willing or able to pay for it as an out of pocket expense. But the programs are there.

How Evil is Soda?

When people see me eating a piece of candy, or perhaps having a beer, they may chuckle and joke with me – since I’m a dietitian, they may feel I shouldn’t be consuming anything less nutritious than kale. But underneath my dietitian super suit, I am human. And I enjoy food and beverage. I like having a glass of wine or two with some good cheese and sliced apples. I have a sweet tooth and occasionally enjoy a rich dessert. I also treat myself to fried food on occasion (fried calamari and French Fries top the list).

Superhero RDs

Superhero RDs

So when it comes to soda – the same holds true. I personally don’t drink soda too often, and if I do, I choose a diet cola or ginger ale. Obviously soda (regular or diet) is void of nutrients and one could say “It’s not good for you”, but this doesn’t mean one sip will kill you, nor will drinking it in moderation, if you enjoy it. It’s about balancing the added calories that caloric beverages provide.

Research about Kids and Soda

A recent study showed that moderate amounts of fructose or glucose-sweetened beverages don’t alter metabolic health in adolescents. The question that begs for an answer: What is “moderation?” This study checked out 40 male and female adolescents whom took part in two 15-day trials. The groups consumed either a high-fructose beverage or a high-glucose beverage. During each trial, they consumed 710 milliliters (about 24 ounces, or 2 cans of soda) of the assigned beverage daily, on days 1-14, in addition to their typical diet. The high-fructose (HF) beverage provided 50 grams of fructose and 15 grams of glucose daily from the beverages, while the high-glucose (HG) trial was the opposite (50 grams glucose, 15 grams fructose). On day 15, the HF group consumed three liquid meals consisting of 50 grams of fructose, and the HG group consumed three liquid meals opposed of 20 grams of glucose, and 15 grams of fructose. Metabolic effects were measured for insulin sensitivity and cholesterol concentrations. Neither group showed any significant differences in these markers for metabolic health.

This study concludes that “moderate consumption” of any sugary beverage would be 50 grams per day. That is, this amount and frequency (about a 12 ounce can) was not shown to produce any deleterious metabolic effects.

Frequency and Portion

So rather than tax it or ban it, how about working toward educating families about exactly what “moderation” means. People are much more accepting of the advice “Have no more than 5 cans of soda a week” as opposed to “Absolutely no sugar, or soda, ever”. Of course if a person needs to lose weight, then even less soda, or water or a diet beverage, is a better choice. This needs to be individualized and the entire quality of the diet should also be considered.

No matter what ingredient you would like to blame for poor health, the most important thing to consider is frequency and portion. How much, and how often is what matters most.  Not the single ingredient.

You are going to eat or drink something that isn’t the most nutritious item, or isn’t even “needed” at all, but stay focused on including the good foods too, and getting regular exercise, and you will be able to maintain a healthy weight, and enjoy eating all at once.

As a nutrition communication consultant I occasionally write about topics related to the food industry clients I may serve, but my thoughts and opinions are my own.

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