Recently, the government has suggested that manufacturers of aerated drinks reduce the sugar content in the the products. This is certainly a welcome step that will help address the issues around sugar sweetened beverages — sodas, aerated drinks, fruit drinks, cordials, sherbets, squashes, fruit juices, pannas, thandai and iced teas.
Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, particularly carbonated soft drinks, may be a key contributor to obesity. Excess sugar in anyone’s diet can lead to coronary heart disease, obesity, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), lowered immunity, impaired brain function and increased risk to cancer. Sugar, in fact, has been found to be addictive in nature.
Sugar uses the same neurological pathways as narcotic to hit the pleasure centre of the brain that send out the signal: “eat more, eat more”. Individuals with a preference for binging on sweet foods tend to binge more frequently.
Another effect of excessive sugar intake is change in microbial flora in the gut. In the long run, this can eventually lead to bloating, and may worsen gastrointestinal problems such as heartburn and flatulence. Abnormal gut flora has also been linked to lower immunity, allergies, skin problems like acne and eczema. Excessive sugar intake can deplete nutrients like B-vitamins, zinc and chromium.
In fact, the World health Organisation has recently lowered the recommendations for sugar from 10 per cent to no more than 5 per cent of the total caloric intake, translating to 4-5 teaspoons/day for a 2000 Kcal diet for an average person. A single can of a sugar sweetened beverage exceeds this limit.
Children are particularly vulnerable to high and increasing consumption of sweetened drinks. It has been estimated that each additional can or a glass of sugar sweetened drink consumed everyday increases the risk of obesity by 60 per cent.
The physiological effects of energy intake on satiation and satiety appear to be quite different for energy in solid foods as opposed to energy in fluids. Possibly because of reduced gastric distension and faster transit times, the energy contained in fluids is less well “detected” by the body and subsequent food intake is poorly adjusted to account for the energy taken in through beverages.
Meanwhile, drinking an occasional can of diet soda is unlikely to hurt you. But remember diet sodas are not silver bullets for weight loss. While they may save you calories occasionally, studies suggest that regular consumption can increase your risk of obesity and diabetes.
Ishi Khosla is a former senior nutritionist at Escorts. She heads the Centre of Dietary Counselling and also runs a health food store. She feels that for complete well-being, one should integrate physical, mental and spiritual health. According to her: “To be healthy should be the ultimate goal for all.”