Sugary drinks in moderation -Pic Armand Hough

Too many South Africans cannot have a meal without a fizzy drink or a cola.

Sugar-sweetened beverages including fizzy drinks, flavoured water, sweetened tea or coffee, fruit juices and energy drinks are a significant source of added sugar in the diets of most South Africans. 

A study of 1 233 adults in North West Province showed that sugary drink intake doubled from 2005 to 2010.  

Over the 5 years more rural participants started drinking sugary drinks and urban consumers increased the amount they drank. 

One can of fizzy drink contains roughly 600 kilojoules of energy, which is 7% of typical daily energy requirements. This may sound like a small contribution, but it’s a 7% you don’t need. 

600 kilojoules is the amount of extra energy you need to be moderately active for 30 minutes.

“Our bodies don’t compensate well for sugary drinks, which means it does not satisfy our hunger , and we don’t adjust the rest of our food intake downwards. If your body stores 600 kilojoules every day, you will gain 6kg of weight in one year” says Gabriel Eksteen, Nutrition Science Programme manager as the Heart and Stroke Foundation (HSFSA).

Unsurprisingly, drinking just one sugary drink a day increases the likelihood of being overweight by 27% in adults and 55% in children. 

How much sugar is too much?

Both the American Heart Association and the World Health Organisation recommends limiting ‘free’ sugar to less than 5% of total energy intake for maximum benefit. 

This includes any sugar in a food or drink that was added by the manufacturer,  sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices, and sugar added at home. 

5% equates to 6 to 9 teaspoons of sugar per day from all food and drinks, depending on age and gender. 

To put this in perspective, one fizzy drink typically contains 40 grams of sugar, or 10 teaspoons.

A food label is an excellent tool to see how much sugar a food or beverage contains.

It is also important to read the ‘ingredient list’ together with the ‘nutrition information table’ to determine whether the total sugar in the product is mostly added sugar.

Water always wins 

Even though sugar-free flavoured drinks are better alternatives to the full-sugar version, clean fresh water is still the best replacement for sugary drinks. 

Importantly, water is far cheaper than other drinks, and can be cost saving health improvement. 

The reduction in sugar and kilojoules when changing to water will ultimately help to maintain a healthy weight and lower the risk of developing diabetes or heart disease.

“Drinking water by no means needs to be boring”, adds Megan Lee, Registered Dietitian at the HSFSA. “Add a twist to your water by adding cucumber slices, mint leaves, unsweetened fruity herbal teas, or fruit such as lemon, grapefruit, berries, pineapple or watermelon. Add sparkling water if you’re craving some fizz”.