Time to rethink what you drink

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F rom New York to the Navajo Nation, there is a push to address the negative health effects of consuming too much junk food, particularly what we drink.

Obesity rates keep rising and health officials say sugar-filled drinks bear much of the blame. They carry hundreds of empty calories without making us feel full. Americans drink an average of 200 calories a day – enough to pack on 21 pounds of weight in a year.

With sodas, the dangers go beyond the calories.

Drinking large amounts of the sugar in sodas creates a spike in blood sugar and insulin. The excess sugar the body is unable to use turns into fat.

A 32-ounce soda has more calories than a typical fast-food cheeseburger and no nutritional value. Healthy sounding alternatives like fruit smoothies or flavored coffee drinks are packed with an abundance of calories and sugar.

A 22-ounce McDonald's wild berry smoothie contains 320 calories, a 24-ounce Tropical Fruit Smoothie from Dunkin' Donuts carries 540 calories, and a Starbucks Caffé Mocha is loaded with 300 calories and 22 grams of sugar.

A medium chocolate milkshake at Burger King has 690 calories, while a large McDonald's Triple Thick Chocolate Shake has a whopping 1,160 calories (168 grams of sugar).

Most of the calories in these drinks are equivalent to an entire meal.

Be aware that sugar comes by many different names that are not always obvious. Some common sweeteners are high-fructose syrup, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, honey, syrup, corn syrup, sucrose and dextrose.

Excess sugar suppresses the immune system, promotes diabetes and heart disease, and causes more cravings.

Health officials have found that the more sugar you eat, the more you want and that includes artificial sweeteners. Aspartame found in NutraSweet and Equal, and diet drinks such as Diet Pepsi and Diet Snapple, can have negative side effects.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services have received thousands of aspartame-related complaints such as dizziness, diarrhea, memory loss, and mood changes.

In order to combat this, start by making small changes to what you drink. Cut calories by ordering your coffee with fat-free or low-fat milk, ordering a smaller size, avoiding flavored syrups and skipping the whip.

Leaving out whipped cream can save you an excess of 100 calories. Drink less soda and more water. Make water more exciting by adding slices of lemon or lime or drink sparkling water.

If you do opt for a sugar-sweetened drink, go for a small size rather than the Big Gulp at convenience stores.

Liquid calories are not always a wise investment of calories. They don't register in your stomach like food calories do. Just taking the step to re-think what you drink can save you hundreds of calories and contribute to a healthier lifestyle.

Making better choices is also an opportunity to be a role model for your friends and family.

For a helpful resource to hundreds of drink options and eye-opening nutrition facts, get Drink This Not That, a 320-page colorfully illustrated guide by David Zinczenko.

Grace Marks, MPH, CPC is a health educator, certified life coach, motivational speaker, and holistic stress management instructor with Native Empowerment: Solutions for Health and Harmony providing customized training programs for tribal organizations and businesses. If you have any questions or comments, please direct them to Grace@NativeEmpowerment.com or visit www.nativeempowerment.com.

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