After 5 long years, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) arrived in January of 2016. For some, this document is the same old, same old, encouraging healthy behaviors that have already been proposed in the past: choose vegetables, fruits, grains, low-fat and fat-free dairy, lean meats, and other protein foods and oils, and cut back on saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars, and sodium. For others, these Guidelines represent a powerful plan that dictates Federal nutrition policies and changes the way food companies will manufacture and package products that will greet us at the supermarket. Particularly, sugar-sweetened beverages were called out as being the drinks to limit. Added sugars account on average for almost 270 calories, or more than 13 percent of calories per day in the U.S. population. Excluding milk and 100% fruit juice, beverages account for 47% of added sugars in the diet of the U.S. population ages 2 years and older. The DGA identifies sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks, fruit drinks and sport and energy drinks as the leading source of added sugars. Limiting sugar intake, particularly sugar-sweetened beverages, has been also been recommendations by national and international organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, World Health Organization, American Heart Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Diabetes Association. The American Heart Association encourages us to limit our intake of added sugars to no more than 6 teaspoons or 100 calories a day for most women and no more than 9 teaspoons or 150 calories a day for most men. Since the average can of soda contains almost 10 teaspoons of sugar, you’d surpass those recommendations in just one sitting! Moreover, replacing a single 12-ounce, 140-calorie sugar-sweetened beverage with water each day for a year can cut about 50,000 calories per year from one’s diet. Besides helping to keep weight in check, a reduction of sugary beverages could reduce the incidence diseases that often accompany obesity, like diabetes and heart disease. We were encouraged by the Guidelines to consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars. In terms we can understand, this means that if the average caloric recommendation equals 2,000 calories (even though that’s more than many of us need), then 10 percent of 2,000 calories equals 200 calories. These 200 calories of sugar are equivalent to 50 grams (g) of sugar. Using that 12 ounce can of soda as a reference, one can of soda has about 35 g of sugar, again highlighting that it would take up the bulk of any added sugar you might be consuming on a given day. The DGA concluded, therefore, that water is the, “preferred beverage choice.” In fact, Maria Godoy, Senior Editor, NPR Science Desk and Host of The Salt, underscored, “the government’s language on choosing water over sugary drinks is as clear as a glass of H2O.” As a nutritionist and a mom, I’m excited to see that the government is including water in the guidelines for healthy eating and is highlighting water as a recommended alternative to drinking sugary beverages. So to help you make a shift that your body will thank you for, try a few of these tips:
- If you’re a soda lover and you enjoy bubbles, consider a sparkling water which comes in a variety of flavors with no added sugar. Don’t forget to check food labels carefully to be sure your clear beverage is clear of calories and not laden with hidden sugars. If you can’t bear to totally part with your soda yet, dilute your drink down with sparkling water. Continue to increase the sparkling water to soda ratio until you’ll reap the benefits of this sweet swap.
- Take water with you to avoid the temptation of grabbing a sugary drink. Bring your own refillable water bottle or a bottle of water along if you’re on the go. When traveling, tap water may not be easily available or you may not find a water fountain nearby. In those cases, bottled water is a great alternative to caloric sweetened beverages.
- Add flavor by infusing water with fresh fruit. Be creative and jazz up your drink by adding your favorite seasonings, spices or create your own spa soother by including sliced cucumber.
The DGA’s recommendation to choose water as your go-to beverage was made for good reason: water provides healthy hydration and a low-cost beverage option. After all, there are few products out there that have no calories, no fat, no carbs, no gluten, no preservatives, no additives, and no sodium and yet…provides so many benefits. Though the thumbs-up for raising a glass or bottle seems well-established, Godoy points out, “Adding some sort of water symbol to the MyPlate icon would really bring home the message that water, not soda, should be the beverage of choice.” But I guess we weren’t ready for that move yet. Perhaps we’ll see that shift in the 2020 DGA! This post was previously posted on BetterThanDieting.com Disclosure: I partnered with Nestlé Waters North America for this story. The opinions herein are my own. More statistics on the benefits of water as healthy hydration can be found in the Nestlé Waters Healthy Hydration Toolkit.
Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA,RDN,CDN is Director and Owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She is a nutrition and diet expert, motivational speaker, media spokesperson and author of Read It Before You Eat It, translating confusing and misleading terminology into consumer-friendly information. Bonnie received her Bachelor’s Degree in Clinical and Community Dietetics from Downstate Medical Center and her Master’s Degree in Nutrition from New York University.