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Sugar hits sour note at Providence

Sugar sure tastes sweet, but it can make your doctor sour — especially when it comes to illnesses such as obesity and diabetes that plague Americans at epidemic proportions. That’s why Providence Medford Medical Center is banning sale of soda pop and other sugary drinks on its campus.

The change is taking place at all Providence hospitals over the next two months. Sugary pop can still be carried onto campus, and you can still buy diet drinks with artificial sweeteners, but no more standard Coke, Pepsi or other pops, which have up to 18 teaspoons of sugar in a 20-ounce bottle.

In their stead, Providence has brought in “water infusers” — containers loaded with real fruit immersed in water and ice, so they impart enough of that tasty lift that you want to drink many glasses of water during the day. Unlike pop, the infusions are free, and they are available to everyone, including employees, visitors and patients.

“I used to drink a couple of those 44-ounce soda pops a day, but I was younger then and could handle it,” says Providence employee Mark Darrohn. “Now it’s infused water — and if I don’t drink enough, boy, I know it. I get a headache. The raspberry-lemonade infusion is my favorite, and it’s a nice bonus they’re free.”

Sugary drinks play a big role in diabetes, heart disease, obesity and tooth decay, says Karen Bartalini, general services director at Providence here. The calories in refined sugar are empty, possessing no nutritional value.

The 385 calories of sugar consumed daily by the average American would take an hour of basketball to work off, according to handouts in the Providence cafeteria. If you have one pop a day and are sedentary, Bartalini adds, it could account for a 25-pound weight gain annually.

“Sugary pop is so ingrained in our culture that everyone thinks it’s all right to down these Big Gulps in 64 ounces, 48 ounces and on down,” Bartalini says. “The basic bottle of pop has a quarter of a cup of sugar in it. We can’t imagine putting that much on our cereal, but we think nothing of drinking it down."

“I totally drink nine cups of water daily since they got these (infusers) in July," says Providence rehab worker Linda Brower, while pouring a pineapple-mint infusion. "Too much sugar dehydrates you and makes you gain weight. My son drinks those 44-ouncer pops and has become very addicted to it.”

Former soda guzzler Rebecca Murphy, a Providence facilities planner, says it’s the flavor of infusions that bring her back for more.

“It’s awesome in the summer with fresh fruit. I have three big (20-ounce) glasses a day. Love it,” she says.

Medical device sales rep Derrick Vaughn says sugar doesn’t agree with him, makes him feel bad the next morning and lowers his immune system, so he goes for the infusions.

“I love this water,” he notes. “It’s the best idea.”

Providence had sugary pop for sale in vending machines, carts and its cafeteria, says Bartalini, adding, “Our society has huge obesity, and diabetes is increasing astronomically. It’s partially due to our eating habits, and we’re deciding not to contribute to that.”

Asked whether Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center has booted out sugary pops, spokeswoman Lauren Van Sickle said half of the drinks for sale at RRMC are sugar-free, such as teas, coconut water and NakedJuice.

“We haven’t banned sweetened drinks,” she said, “and we have no plans to do so.”

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Mark Darrohn, an inventory coordinator with Providence Medford Medical Center, fills up on infused fruit water, which the hospital is offering for free. Darrohn says he used to be a 'Coke-aholic,' drinking up to two 44-ounce Big Gulps a day. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch