I went through the drink aisle of the organic section of my grocery store recently just to see what’s new and explore drink labels. I know how confusing it can be to make wise decisions on what is considered healthy. It’s easy to get fooled by hip advertising and conflicting data on what really is healthy. Take coconut for example. There is some evidence that the medium-chained triglycerides contained in coconut oil are heart healthy, can help with weight loss and can provide some protection against memory loss against Alzheimer’s Disease, but it is conflicting. Taking advantage of the hipness of coconut right now, there are quite a few brands that have come out with coconut drinks made from coconut water. The advertising on the front is convincing with its words like “natural” and “pure” with pictures of coconuts and palm trees. It’s got to be good for you, right?
When you look at drink labels there are three things you always want to explore so that you don’t get bamboozled: the serving size, the amount of sugar and the ingredients.
Serving Sizes Can Be Deceiving
Most people would look at a bottled drink and think of it as one serving. A 16 oz serving is not a big deal if you are talking about water, but if it’s drinks containing added sugars, you can quickly reach the daily limit that the 2015 Nutritional Guidelines has set for no more than 10% of your total daily calories coming from added sugar. Why do companies make the label based on more than one serving? So that they can make their product look healthier than it actually is.
At least with the bottle of Coke, the label is not deluding us, it’s based on the fully monty. However, the coconut water labels above are both based on 8 oz servings from the 16 oz bottles. You can never assume that because it looks like a one serving container, that the label is based on a single serving.
Look At Drink Labels For Sugar
The next thing you want to consider is the amount of grams of sugar on the drink label. If you look under carbohydrates, you’ll see the word sugar. Sugar can be found naturally in some foods, like fruit, starchy veggies and milk, but most of the sweeteners added to drinks are from various forms of sugar or artificial sweeteners. Some other names for sugar include: dextrose, cane sugar, maltose, high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey, agave, male syrup, maple syrup, and invert sugar. And artificial sweeteners have been linked to cancer as well as obesity, heart disease and diabetes, mainly because they raise our mouth’s “sugar thermostat” driving our craving for sugar. Common examples of sugar substitutes include: sucralose, aspertame, saccharin and acesulfame K. Stevia is another sugar substitute that the FDA has deemed “GRAS” or generally recognized as safe.
With the average U.S. calorie intake for women being around 1800 and for men, 2600, ten percent of calories amounts to 180 for women and 260 for men based on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines. There are 4 calories in a gram of sugar, making the total daily limit of recommended added sugars for women about 45 gms and for men, 65 gms. So that means the 16 oz Coke above with its 55 gms of sugar from high fructose corn syrup, delivers close to the full daily allowance of sugar for men but almost 25% above the recommended amount for women. And that does not include the sugar in coffee or tea, sugar in ketchup, tomato sauce, salad dressing, sweetened yogurts, any baked goods or ice cream and even crackers. Yes, there is sugar in almost any manufactured food item!
The coconut waters in the first label require some additional clarification. Technically, according to the 2015 Nutritional Guidelines, the bottle on the right does not contain added sugar since it is made from 100 % coconut water. However, you would still be drinking 20 gms of sugar and 128 calories. Are you drinking this for health or to quench thirst? Either way, you still need to take into account the rest of your total daily calories if you really want to not gain weight. Let’s say a person didn’t make any other changes in his/her diet or activity and switched from one 16 oz bottle of water daily to this coconut water. Over the course of a month that person would be consuming an additional 3840 calories and would gain a little over a pound ( there are 3600 calories in a pound) from this one change.
The other coconut water does have added sugars in the form of lemon puree and fruit sugar and delivers 30 gms of sugar and 140 calories in the one bottle. That amounts to 4200 calories or about a pound and a quarter of additional weight in a month’s time.
Look At The Ingredients On Drink Labels
Looks can be deceiving. You may think you are doing the body good based on the front of the label, but when you look under the hood, you can see how manufacturers like to manipulate ingredients. Fruit sugar comes from ripe fruit and is cheaper than cane sugar. It certainly sounds healthy, but it’s still just sugar all dressed up. And that Coke’s high fructose corn syrup is the second ingredient – you’re drinking pretty much just pure liquid sugar. Currently, ingredients are listed by weight, not by percentage of calories. Soon, the new food labels will have to include not only the amount in grams of added sugar, but the percentage of calories as well. This will save all the confusion.
Don’t Be Bamboozled
My rule of thumb is to try to find foods either in their natural state, to make my own or with no more than 3-5 ingredients. I figure if I can’t recognize a listed ingredient or can’t pronounce it, I probably don’t want it going in my body. As far as my drinks go, I use a Soda Stream to make my own carbonated water and my health drink consists of my own smoothie made with kale grown in my garden, frozen berries, 1 % milk, Greek yogurt and flax-seed. That’s my daily dose of vitamins, protein, calcium, probiotics and omega 3’s. You can’t get much healthier than that and at least I’m in control of manipulating all the ingredients my way.
Barbara writes a biweekly blog to help inform and empower people to live healthy lives. Please “share” her articles and “like” her facebook page to help spread the word.