General Health Friday April 20, 2012

Drinking in the bad stuff

We all know that junk food is bad for us. Too many chips, crisps, sweets and sugar will have a negative effect not just on your waistline but also on your overall health. A poor diet, especially in conjunction with a lack of exercise, can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. What’s interesting, however, and perhaps problematic, is the emphasis on the food part when it comes to talking about an unhealthy diet.

Of course, it’s easy to see why the focus is put on food, as we tend to spend more time eating than drinking. If you were asked to note down your dietary habits over a weekly period, chances are you would detail each meal you consumed each day and forget to include everyday beverages like fruit juice, soft drinks and even alcohol. However, in some cases these seemingly innocuous drinks could be adding hundreds of calories to your daily intake every day.

This lack of awareness, combined with a general misunderstanding about how unhealthy some beverages can be, was demonstrated in a recent study by Glasgow University. The study involved over 2,000 people who were asked to estimate the amount of sugar contained in various drinks. The results showed that many people underestimated the amount contained in “natural” beverages like fruit juice and smoothies, while actually overestimating the sugar level is soft drinks. Soft drinks tend to bear the brunt of the negative press about “bad” beverages, but the results here show that even fruit juice can have a significant impact on the amount of sugar an individual consumes on a daily basis.

sugar

The study’s results clearly showed that people misjudged the sugar content of drinks more when they associated them with being “healthy”. For example, when asked to estimate the sugar content of a pomegranate-based drink, participants misjudged the value by almost 18 teaspoons. This is likely because pomegranate-based drinks received a lot of positive press regarding their supposed health benefits over the last couple of years, after the pomegranate was termed a “superfood”. What many people don’t realise is that even if a drink contains a natural and healthy ingredient, like fruit, that does not mean it doesn’t contain sugar. In fact, most fruit is high in natural sugars.

Even soft drinks, which are known to be high in sugar with little nutritional value, are often forgotten when an individual calculates their daily calorie content. This is a problem because it means that many people are unaware that a significant portion of their calorie intake is coming from beverages, meaning they may be underestimating how much sugar they are consuming in total. The research team behind the study from Glasgow University warned that this is a factor in rising obesity levels and constitutes a risk factor for serious health problems like diabetes. Lead researcher Prof Naveed Sattar advised that people trying to lose weight should focus on their intake of drinks high in sugar, and that “replacing [the drinks] with water or diet drinks would be a sensible first target to help them lessen their calorie intake”.

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