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You can sip, slurp your way to obesity

The term stays with you once you've heard it. "Obesity in a bottle."

And it prompts a query: What do you drink on any given day? Sweetened iced tea? Energy drinks? Cola? Perhaps you're in one of the cars lined up at those drive-through coffee places in the early morning? Or, how about this — do you almost always have a glass of wine before dinner? Maybe two?

That energy drink, in its beckoning narrow can, is probably close to 240 sugar-laden calories. Red wine can contain 100 calories a glass. The maximum amount of "added sugar" any of us should have in a day is equivalent to about 75 calories.

The fact that so many of us sip and slurp things loaded with sugar is directly linked to the increase in weight by Americans over the decades and partially explains the increasing presence of chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Those are the most obvious medical conditions, but soda also contributes to bone deterioration. Think "osteoporosis." There is even research that suggests it negatively affects cognition.

Just look at us. One in three Americans is obese — which means having a body weight more than 20 percent greater than recommended for our height. The causes can increasingly be traced to the cups of sugared liquid we repeatedly lift to our lips. A 32-ounce cola has 400 calories, which is about 25 percent of the daily calories needed by a moderately active older adult. It's the same number of calories contained in a roast beef sandwich or two chocolate brownies.

Maybe we don't drink cola, but our grandchildren probably do. Teenage boys on average drink three cans of soda a day. Teen girls drink two. And in every 12-ounce can are 10 teaspoons of sugar. When we consume this liquid sweetness, we get an immediate surge of energy and then soon feel ourselves crash — hard. No matter what the size, they contain no nutrition — despite any "added vitamins" promise — and the caffeine they contain makes them dehydrating.

Here's another surprise. In many cases, artificial sweeteners in sugar-free drinks act as appetite stimulants. Calorie-free drinks can actually make you hungry!

"What to drink?" you may be asking. Water, of course, is best; add a floating lime, lemon or strawberry, perhaps. Maybe make "juice ice cubes" — or try a little carbonation. It's the thirst quencher with zero calories — it just carries nutrients through your body.

I didn't think this topic was an issue for me personally until a recent Sunday afternoon when I was working in the yard, got really thirsty, and decided on a whim to grab a can of soda from the refrigerator in the garage. I drink other sweet things, but I never drink cola, so I was unprepared for what happened. The drink was crispy-cold and totally refreshing. I have a very positive recall of that taste — wow! But the crash came after about 20 minutes. And then I became so fatigued I could hardly drag the rake back to the garage.

But the next day I thought about that taste again — it beckoned me back. Now I see how it all starts.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 541-776-7371, ext. 210.