Beverages account for a huge source of our sugar intake. Image by: Getty Images
Sugary drinks contain a lot of empty calories and have been linked to numerous health issues. Learn how to kick these drinks to the curb with five healthy alternatives.Trading in your sugary chai latte for a chai tea made with steamed milk may seem like the end of the world. But, changing your diet can be easier – and yummier - than you think.
"The number one source of added sugar in our diet is from sugar-sweetened beverages," says Amanda Nash, a registered dietitian with the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Sugary drinks include things such as iced flavoured coffees, sports drinks, pop and fruit juice.
One problem with sugary drinks is that they don't leave you feeling as full as solid foods do– even if they both have the same amount of calories. After drinking a sugary drink, even though you might have consumed hundreds of calories, you're still hungry and you will continue to eat as if you'd consumed nothing at all. "That's really how sugar-sweetened beverages can add to extra caloric intake," says Nash.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends that your total intake of added sugars does not exceed ten percent of your total daily calories (and ideally five percent). "To put that into perspective, ten percent for the average person eating a 2000-calorie diet would be 48 grams," explains Nash. This may seem like a lot but one can of pop usually has about 35 grams of added sugar.
Here are some delicious drinks that can help you cut back on added sugar.
"Use almond or coconut milk blended with one cup of berries or other frozen fruit per serving," suggests Sara Jafari, a registered dietitian based in Toronto. Check the label to make sure the coconut or almond milk is unsweetened – most have added sugar.
2. Homemade iced tea
Leave the sugar-sweetened iced tea on the shelves. "Brew a naturally sweet tea like apple cinnamon tea, mint tea or berry tea," says Nash. Leave the tea bags in and let it chill in the fridge overnight. You could even make a fizzy iced tea by adding soda water to your homemade iced tea.
3. Carbonated water
If you love drinking pop, then carbonated water is a great option for you. Nash suggests livening up your water by adding lemon, lime, grapefruit, fresh berries, mint or herbs. Even a splash of fruit juice will help to minimize your sugar intake.
4. Chocolate and white milk combo
Although plain milk or a milk alternative, like soy, almond or coconut milk, should always be the first choice, some people can't escape their sweet tooth. If you really like flavoured beverages, fill a glass with half chocolate milk and half white milk. Plain milk contains important vitamins and minerals. It also leaves you feeling full!
5. Herbal tea
If you want a delicious hot drink, then herbal tea is the way to go. Teas can be sugary beverages, depending on how you prepare them, so make sure you take it plain. You'll find adding extra sugar isn't necessary because it already has a sweet flavour. With no added sugar, it can be a healthy way to satisfy your craving for a hot beverage. Some great herbal tea options are ginger, dandelion, hibiscus and rooibos.
Tips on sweeteners:
• Alternatives: Try sweetening your tea with raw honey or stevia. Flavouring your coffee with cinnamon is also a great alternative to adding sugar.
• Use sparingly: Nash suggests limiting the amount of sweeteners you add to your food and beverages. Over time you will adapt to natural flavours and enjoy beverages without added sweetness.
• Ditch diet drinks: "Diet" drinks and drinks made with artificial sweeteners are good for providing a sweet flavour without calories. But, artificial sweeteners can be tricky. Jafari explains that sometimes, artificial sweeteners can come from natural sources, such as herbs – but, they can also be derived from sugar itself! These drinks also do not offer any nutritional or health benefits.
Tips on label reading:
• Be aware of health halos: Jafari explains that lots of drinks like vitamin enriched water and coconut water are advertised as being healthy when in fact they contain added sugar. Be wary of these and coconut water because it naturally contains a lot of sugar.
• Be cautious of the word "original": Almond and coconut milk are often labeled as "original," so people think nothing has been added to them. But, these "original" drinks usually have added sugar - look for the word "unsweetened."
• Watch out for hidden sugars: Sugar can be listed in the ingredients under many different names. Nash says anything that ends in "ose," such as glucose, sucrose or dextrose, is sugar. Maple syrup and corn syrup are also different types of sugar.
Learn more on decoding nutrition facts labels.