National nutrition week: rethink your drink

October 17, 2017

National nutrition week runs every year, with the purpose of raising awareness and reinforcement of nutrition education. This year the theme was “Rethink your drink- choose water” which aims to get South Africans drinking water every day.

Why would we want to drink water?

  • Water is needed for any metabolic reaction in the cells, maintains the physical and chemical consistency of intra and extracellular fluids, forms part of the structure of the cells, acts as a transport medium for nutrients and all body substances and is directly involved in regulating body temperature. Basically, without we would not be able to function.
  • Roughly 60-70% of total body weight is made up of water. You typically lose 2L (or more) of water per day; roughly 1.5L of this is lost through urination, 100 ml through faeces, 100ml through sweat, 350 ml through the skin and 350 ml through breathing, which all varies according to your activity level, humidity, alcohol or caffeine intake and other factors.
  • Water contains no calories.

You’re probably thinking, but why water when any other fluid can do a similar job. True, however, here are a few facts about a common replacement for water, sugary drinks:

  • Sugary drinks are drinks that are sweetened with various forms of added sugars like brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, and sucrose. Examples include fizzy drinks, teas or coffees, flavoured waters, flavoured milk, drinking yoghurt and sport and energy drinks.
  • Sugary drinks can cause dental cavities and tooth erosion
  • Due to their high sugar (and therefore energy) content, and lack of effect of satiety they can lead to an excess in energy intake. To put this in perspective, a can of coke contains roughly 140 calories, which is about the same amount of energy as a slice of rye bread with a thin spread of peanut butter. The slice of bread will cause you to feel full, however, the can of coke will not.
  • Regardless of whether you are overweight or not, extra energy from sugary drinks makes it harder for the average person to maintain a healthy weight, which increases the risk of becoming overweight over time.
  • Sugary drinks can lead to increased visceral fat, a fat that builds up in and around organs in your body, which can lead to various diseases of lifestyle such as diabetes and heart disease or a fatty liver.
  • In addition, because of their high amounts of sugar and large quantities consumed, sugary drinks may increase diabetes and cardiovascular risk, independent of obesity as a contributor to a high dietary glyaecemic load (GL) leading to inflammation and insulin resistance.
  • Consumption of sugary drinks at an early age sets a pattern for unhealthy dietary habits leading to early-onset type 2 diabetes and obesity which require chronic care over the person’s lifetime.
  • Drinking approximately 250 ml sugary drink daily increases the likelihood of being overweight by 27 percent for adults and 55 percent of children. Higher consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages by one serving per day was associated with an 18 percent greater incidence of type 2 diabetes.
  • Daily consumption of two or more sugary drinks has been found to increase risk of developing diabetes by at least 24% compared to consuming less than one sugary drink per month.
  • People who consume one sugary drink per day are 29 per cent more likely to die from a heart attack
  • Drinking sugary drinks daily for just two weeks increases blood fat levels by about 20 per cent
  • After six months, daily consumption of sugary drinks doubles the fat deposits in the liver and contributes to heart disease and diabetes
  • According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, there is a clear link between sugary drink consumption and heart disease; as with an increase in consumption of sugary drinks there is an increase in 2 direct indicators of heart disease, blood lipids and uric acid.
  • There is an indirect link between cancer and sugar; as eating excess sugar (which contains a lot of energy and no nutrients) over time can cause you to gain weight, being overweight or obese increase the risk of 13 different types of cancer. In fact, obesity (second to smoking) is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer.

To see how much sugar you are actually consuming, it can be very helpful to read food labels. On the nutritional information at the back, below carbohydrates should read “of which total sugars”. Take this amount, according to the portion size of the bottle and divide this number by 4, which will give you a number of teaspoons of sugar in that food/beverage. 500 ml bottle carbonated (‘fizzy’) soft drink in South Africa contains an average of 15 teaspoons of sugar and the same size of fruit juice about the same (see picture below).

What may come as a surprise, is that even 100% fruit juices count as sugar-sweetened beverages, as they have an equivalently high energy and sugar content. Indeed, they are more nutritious than fizzy cooldrinks, but they are basically all the sugar extracted from the fruit, without any fibre. It can take up to 4 oranges to make 250ml of orange juice, which you would rarely consume all once, but technically are when drinking the juice. Rather stick to a small glass (about ½ a cup /125 ml) of juice, try diluting 100 percent juice with water or soda water to cut down on sugar and calories, or even better, enjoy a whole piece of fruit, which has the added benefit of fibre!

What about artificially sweetened drinks? These contain no sugar, which makes them a slightly better choice, and can be helpful in assisting someone in cutting down on sugar-sweetened beverages. However, they are still not the best choice, and should never replace water.

So how can you consume more water?

  • Always keep a water bottle in your car, on your desk, or on the dinner table whilst you eat
  • Make a habit of drinking a glass of water before every meal, sometimes your brain tells you you’re hungry when you are actually thirsty
  • Drink a glass of water before brushing your teeth
  • If you really struggle, set a reminder on your phone
  • Keep reusable glass bottles of water in the fridge
  • Flavour your water with cut up fruit, mint, here are some combinations that work well together:
    • Strawberries + basil + lime
    • Pineapple + lemon + mint
    • Rasberry + rose petal + vanilla
    • Blueberry + lavender
    • Lemon + mint + cucumber
    • Watermelon + basil + lemon
    • Blueberries +
    • Grapefuit + rosemary
    • Apple + ginger + lemongrass
    • Strawberry + cucumber + lime

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