Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

PCOS BlogDrinking liquids is important for everyone. For young women with PCOS, it is important to limit intake of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), or drinks that have sugar added to them. This includes non-diet soft drinks or soda; sports drinks, such as Gatorade brand; sweetened tea, such as Arizona brand; coffee drinks; energy drinks, such as Monster brand; and juices, even 100% fruit juice. These drinks contain a lot of calories and provide little to no nutrition to the body. Some beverage companies even load their drinks with vitamins and other so-called ‘healthy’ ingredients to distract you from the high amounts of sugar in the drink.

If you read the recent PCOS blog about glycemic index of foods, you learned that SSBs have a high glycemic index, or a large effect on your blood sugar. Drinking a SSB causes your blood sugar to rise and your body to release insulin as a response to bring down the sugar level. When you eat a food with sugar, your body has to break down all parts of the food so it takes longer for your blood sugar to rise. But when you drink a beverage with sugar, your body breaks it down quickly making the sugar travel to the bloodstream faster and raising blood sugar higher than when you eat a food with sugar.

How much sugar is in that beverage?

If you look at the nutrition facts label on a beverage, you may notice that the sugar content is a bit confusing. Let’s talk about a 16 ounce bottle of Coca-Cola as an example. The nutrition facts label tells us that there are 52 grams of sugar in 1 bottle. But, what does that mean? One teaspoon of sugar, which is the same as one sugar packet (like you would get at a coffee shop), equals 4 grams of sugar. This Coca-Cola bottle, labeled with 52 grams of sugar, contains 13 packets of sugar! This is the same amount of sugar that you would find in 11 Oreos. The American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 25 grams of added sugars in one whole day, so this one bottle of Coca-Cola is more than double the recommendation for your entire day!

What about 100% fruit juice?

Juice, especially 100% fruit juice, can be confusing because it seems like this is a healthy choice. However, juice contains just as much sugar as other SSBs. If you think about drinking apple juice versus eating an apple, eating the apple is the healthier alternative. Why? When juice is made, the fiber is removed and often vitamins and minerals are lost. A whole apple has fiber and the other vitamins and minerals that are naturally present in fruit, plus your body takes longer to break down an apple which prevents your blood sugar from rising too quickly. The presence of fiber makes fruit a lower glycemic index food than juice.

What can you drink instead?

  • Water
    • Try adding sugar-free flavor packets such as Crystal Light, or fruit such as berries, watermelon, or lemon
  • Sparkling water
    • Add a splash of 100% juice for extra flavor
  • Low fat dairy or dairy alternative
    • Try skim, 1% milk, or soy milk

How can you cut back?

It can be tough to cut back on sugary beverages that you enjoy. To make the transition easier, try to cut back on one beverage at a time! This could mean drinking a glass of 1% milk at dinner instead of juice or bringing a water bottle to school instead of having soda. Think about when you usually drink SSBs. If it is helpful, you can make a list of the beverages you drink in a typical day. Then, look at your list and decide what time of day would be easiest to switch to something else. When you are able to make that switch, swap out another beverage during the day. Trying to cut out all SSBs at once is tough; instead, swap them out one at a time to make the changes easier for yourself.

There are many alternatives to SSBs, and cutting back on them can greatly decrease the amount of sugar you eat in a day which is very important for young women with PCOS.

– Dietitian Deena