I was at the grocery store recently, looking for a healthy drink that my kids could have at home or on the go, and I found something called Capri Sun Roarin’ Waters in the boxed juice aisle. I knew that traditional Capri Sun juice contained a great deal of sugar, so I’ve always tried to avoid giving those to my kids, but according to the packaging on this Capri Sun variant, this contained no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.
But then, I looked at the ingredient list on the back of the box and noticed that the drink contained sugar, stevia leaf extract and natural flavor!
To me, these are questionable ingredients to put in a drink marketed toward kids, so I did a bit of research to find out if these were a good healthy drink alternative for my children. Here’s what I discovered:
Sugar vs. Sweeteners
Whether we’re talking about candy, donuts, juice, sodas or all of the above, it’s easy to see that people love their sweets. The problem with these indulgent treats, however, is the large quantity of sugar they contain and the harmful effects they have on our health and the health of our families.
Excessive sugar consumption has been linked to several health-related issues including diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer cell formation and even learning and memory problems.
In an attempt to curb excess sugar consumption, many people have turned to food and drink products that contain artificial sweeteners. These sugar replacements offer all of the sweetness you would get from traditional sugar-filled treats with the benefit of consuming fewer to zero calories. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) even considers many artificial sweeteners to be generally recognized as safe.
So should we all just switch to artificial sweeteners?
Not so fast. Studies have shown that there is a link between the daily consumption of artificial sweeteners and the development of metabolic syndrome, a set of health conditions that include high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels and abnormal cholesterol levels. The combination of these conditions has been shown to increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease and strokes.
One Harvard Medical School report explains that artificial sweeteners affect the body and brain in complex ways. According to the report, artificial sweeteners may fool the brain by preventing people from associating sweetness with the amount of calories they’re actually consuming.
Because of this, there are concerns that people who consume food and beverages containing artificial sweeteners may ultimately try to regain those “missing calories” or overcompensate for their “healthy” food choices. (Example: Ordering a diet soda and then rewarding oneself with a cheeseburger.)
Should we just cut all sugar and artificial sweeteners from our diet then?
The truth is, avoiding all sugar may not be a practical solution to becoming healthy. Many of the foods in our daily diets contain not only sugar, but are also filled with excess fat, cholesterol and sodium, all of which contribute to a variety of health issues.
As far as artificial sweeteners are concerned, negative health effects were revealed through studies of daily consumption, but there are countless other studies that claim occasional consumption of sugar substitutes could help with weight control and even prevent diabetes.
With that said, it’s important to watch out for the following misleading marketing terms on your food and beverage packaging:
Overall, achieving a healthy diet involves more than just restricting sugar or any other ingredient; it requires a lifestyle change that includes the consumption of food and drinks in moderation as well as regular exercise. It also requires making dietary choices like opting to drink water instead of sugary (or artificially sweetened) juices or sodas, and eating fruits, vegetables and lean meats instead of sugar-filled foods, whenever possible.
What are your thoughts on sugar and artificial sweeteners in foods and beverages? Please feel free to share them in the comment section below!
Scientific American: Is Sugar Really Toxic? Sifting through the Evidence
American Heart Association: Non-Nutritive Sweeteners (Artificial Sweeteners)
PMC: Artificial Sweeteners: A systematic review of metabolic effects in youth
FDA: High-Intensity Sweeteners
Mayo Clinic: Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes