4 Freaky Drinks to Avoid

A single can of soda containing the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of table sugar, if consumed every day for one year—assuming no other calorie adjustments—manifests as a 15-pound weight gain. Two cans a day? Thirty pounds a year. So the answer for many of the world's weight conscious was clear: Switch to diet soda. The sugar we drink (whether real or in fake sweetener form) is causing a public health crisis. 
Here are four drinks to avoid:
#1. Diet Soda.
Against the backdrop of all this sugar consumption, there emerged a sister crop of artificial sweeteners like aspartame, acesulfame potassium, saccharin, sucralose, and stevia. The volume of diet beverages available for consumption in 1984 was 9.14 gallons per capita; by 2007 it was 14.94 gallons, an increase of more than 60 percent. The only problem was that in that same time frame, we got fatter. A lot fatter. And there are other health concerns as well. The first diet beverages were sugar-free drinks for diabetics, such as No-Cal soda introduced in the late 1950s.
No-Cal was artificially sweetened with cyclamate, which was taken off the market by the FDA in 1970 because it was found to cause cancer in rats. The drink makers switched to saccharin, but then there were concerns that saccharin might be a carcinogen, so many soda manufacturers and drinkers switched to aspartame, and a few to Splenda (sucralose) and acesulfame potassium. All the while, we tried to ignore the fact that diet soda might just be bad for us, just because it promised to make us thin. 
Nonnutritious sweeteners, what we know as "sugar substitutes," are considered by the FDA, just like sugar in soda, to be inert substances, or "generally regarded as safe." Yet a growing body of evidence suggests that drinks and foods with artificial sweeteners, which came to be in order to help people lose weight and prevent weight gain, have some of the same adverse effects that sugar-sweetened products do, and may even have a worse effect on our health. In numerous studies, diet soda has been linked to weight gain, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes, as well as increased risk for stroke, myocardial infarction, and vascular death—potentially because of how sugar substitutes interact with the brain by signaling "sweet" but delivering no calories.
The Framingham Heart Study, for example, found that individuals who drink any amount of sugar soda or diet soda have an elevated risk of developing metabolic syndrome, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. Shockingly, diet soda drinkers fared the worst: Drinkers of two cans per day presented with a whopping 57 percent higher incidence of metabolic syndrome than non-soda drinkers. In a recent study, it was found that Splenda (sucralose) "affects the glycemic and insulin responses to an oral glucose load in obese people who do not normally consume nonnutritious sugars.
#2. Soda Sweetened With Toxic Combos.
These two issues—the potential health risks of sugar and artificial sweeteners—didn't bother the soda companies until consumers became aware of them and responded by buying less diet soda, therefore hurting their bottom line. In order to combat lost revenue (for example, sales of diet sodas at Coca-Cola fell 6 percent, and at PepsiCo 8 percent in the fist two quarters of 2013), these companies are expanding their reach with line extensions, new products, and company acquisitions, as well as aggressively entering foreign markets.
As consumers cut back on soda, we've seen the new lineup of sugar waters and teas. But now consider that the beverage industry is also responding to concerns over sugar (sucrose), high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and artificial sweeteners by combining them in the same drink. Pepsi introduced Pepsi Next, which has 60 percent less sugar than a regular Pepsi (15 grams for a 12-ounce serving). But here's the catch: It's sweetened with a mixture of HFCS and cane sugar andartificial sweeteners (to be specific, sucralose and acesulfame potassium). 

In other words, instead of offering a better (healthier) drink option, they are splitting the difference down the middle and offering a drink with a smorgasbord of bad health options. Dr Pepper did the same thing with Dr Pepper Ten, which is sweetened with HFCS, aspartame, and acesulfame potassium. It has only 4 grams of sugar per 20 ounces, but that is only because they opted for more artificial sugar and less HFCS than PepsiCo did with Pepsi Next. And believe it or not, these consumer-unfriendly new product introductions get even worse.
#3. Diet Milk. 

The milk industry, which sells a lot of low-fat chocolate milk (especially to schools), filed a petition with the FDA to put aspartame in flavored milk to help combat obesity. Yet the lactose in plain milk is a natural disaccharide (galactose and glucose) present in a relatively small amount, and comes packaged with protein and calcium. The reason to use aspartame in milk would be to replace the added sugar used to flavor the milk (apparently necessary to get kids to drink it once the fat was removed) in order to make the high-sugar flavored milk appear to be less of a bad choice. Talk about falling down the rabbit hole of bad nutrition ideas!
We arrived at diet chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milk by adulterating good food (whole milk) into a lesser food (low-fat sugary milk), then potentially into a lesser-lesser food (low-fat, artifically sweetened and flavored milk) for the sake of profit, with the intent of marketing it under a health banner (Less sugar!), when we could just serve plain, nutritious whole milk in the first place. One cup of whole, unsweetened (white) milk has about 3.5 teaspoons (14 grams) of natural sugar (lactose) and about 150 calories. Depending on which brand you buy, the same size serving of chocolate- or strawberry-flavored milk has roughly twice the sugar (31 grams) and an additional 60 calories. And if your kids make that flavored milk themselves with strawberry or chocolate syrup, that flavored milk may contain even more added sugar, depending on how much syrup they add. If they have three servings per day, that's about 10 teaspoons of added sugar in their diets just from flavored milk—roughly the amount in a Coke.
#4. Unnatural Nectars.
For many of us, it may come as a surprise to know that even 100 percent juice may contain too much sugar and lead to a rise in weight and cause sugar-related health issues. In fact, juice illustrates just how pervasive and perplexing the sugar problem is. An 8-ounce glass of Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice (a PepsiCo brand that was sued over its "100 percent pure and natural" claim because of the processing and pasteurization that the juice goes through before hitting the shelves) has the same amount of sugar as 2 ½ oranges. This may not seem that bad until we consider just how much juice some very small children are drinking. A toddler is an unlikely candidate to actually eat 7 ½ oranges, but may very well consume three 8-ounce servings of juice in a day, which represents 16 ½ teaspoons of sugar.
We know that obesity is reaching epidemic proportions across all age groups and in many geographic regions of the world. Here in the U.S., a particularly tragic statistic is that the obesity rate in children ages 6 to 11 has increased nearly fivefold in only a few decades, rising from 4 percent in the 1970s to 18 percent in 2012. Today, a full third of children are overweight or obese. The first thing a pediatrician will often ask a mother of even a child of healthy weight who reports that her 1- or 2-year-old isn't eating well is "How much juice is the baby drinking?"
Similarly, the first thing Robert Lustig, an obesity expert who is a vocal advocate for sugar reduction, asks the parents of obese children is not "What are they eating?" but rather "What are they drinking?" Some scientists and nutrition experts will argue that unrefined or minimally refined sugars such as honey and maple syrup are healthier options, as they contain antioxidants, trace minerals, and, in the case of maple syrup, calcium, potassium, and manganese. Raw honey, for its part, also offers vitamins, amino acids, and enzymes. But there are other nutritionists and scientists in the food space who will tell us these differences are minuscule, and that there really is no difference at all between the sugar calories from honey or maple syrup and the highly refined sugars made from cane, sugar beets, and corn.
Even if you are willing to opt out of that debate, natural, local honey and 100 percent maple syrup have at least one healthy economic benefit over highly refined sugars that is undisputed: They are fairly priced. That is, they are more expensive. A 12-ounce bottle of Mrs. Butterworth maple-flavored syrup made from HFCS and corn syrup (and no actual maple syrup) costs about $2.99. Twelve ounces of real maple syrup costs at least four times that; it typically runs about a dollar per ounce. The high prices of honey and maple syrup control how much of these products we eat. Cost limits the industrial use of unrefined, unsubsidized sugars as well. If it's not rendered artificially cheap through subsidies and price supports, we won't find it in most processed foods like soda.
Opt Out of the Unhealthy Drink Market
• Drink more water. (Including tap water.)
• Sweeten any beverages we drink ourselves, and to do so only slightly and with sweeteners that have a built-in mechanism to control their use—price. (Real, local honey is must more expensive than fake sweetener-laden, subsidized soda).
• Drink simple, fair trade teas and unsweetened coffee, or sweeten them ourselves with a small amount of organic cane sugar, raw unprocessed honey, or 100 percent pure maple syrup, and accept how much these sweeteners actually cost by using less. Sugar should be expensive.