What are you drinking? With the help of Dr Robert Lustig, M.D. from COAST (the UCSF Centre for Obesity Assessment, Study and Treatment) we invite you to think before you drink.
There’s nothing more convenient than nipping into one of the big-name stores that punctuate our streets every 30 paces, and picking up a chilled drink from the refrigerator. These tasty, seemingly thirst-quenching drinks have homely, familiar logos that we’ve grown up with and give us that kick we need to carry on to our destination. What exactly gives us this kick? Some contain caffeine, but let’s look at the sugar that they all share.
“One can of Coke has 17 teaspoons of sugar,” says Lustig. Put like that rather than as a number on a nutritional label, the reality hits home. Can you imagine spooning that many sugars into say, a cup of coffee?
The opposite of friendly natural sugar found in fruit, this refined sugar has no nutritional value, offering nothing but a short burst of energy and extra statistics on the obesity rate if not burned off. Lustig reveals it has a few more tricks up its sleeve too. “The fructose is metabolised by the liver to fat, which causes fat buildup in the liver, and drives liver insulin resistance, driving adiposity, lipid abnormalities, inflammation, and hypertension.” In short, bad news. There is one way to counter this, says Lustig. “The damage can be offset by vigorous exercise, which is in short supply.”
For a while now calories have been the focus of anybody even considering a diet. A bottle of Vitaminwater contains 100-125 calories, depending on the flavour. (A can of Coke contains 140; a bottle of water: 0).
When you buy a bottle of Vitaminwater do you take care to get 2.5 servings out of it? This is what the label suggests and the nutritional information is per serving, rather than per bottle. Lustig takes a more realistic viewpoint, “As far as the consumer is concerned, each bottle is a single serving, no matter how large it is.”
Lustig is also involved with a campaign to change the way food is labelled. How difficult is it to fathom at the moment? “Very difficult. It doesn't have the things that are really important like added sugar and dietary fiber,” he says.
One label has already been adjusted in some parts of the world. Sold as your colourful best friend who’ll guide you to perfect health, Vitaminwater has been deemed not quite as friendly as it seems. Authorities in Canada and the United Kingdom recently banned it from being labelled as nutritious, stating the claim as misleading.
The Vitaminwater ‘essential orange-orange’ variety label states it “contains no juice”. Not a great start. All the vitamins it contains are available through a regular balanced diet and the body can only take in a certain level of vitamins and nutrients, your recommended daily allowance (RDA). Comparing it to fruit, Vitaminwater contains 150mg of potassium. One banana contains 358mg. If you’ve consumed your RDA through normal meals then any excess vitamins will be passed, meaning Vitaminwater is great for vitamin-fortified urine.
Next time you reach for the fridge as a matter of reflex, think what you’re drinking. If it’s a once in a while treat, go for it. If it’s a matter of habit, look for a healthier alternative.
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