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How much sugar is in your drink?

When last did you check the sugar content of your favourite beverage? It could be pushing you well over your daily sugar quota.

One small thing: Beverage choices are just as important as food choices. Drinking sugary beverages can contribute unnecessary calories. Thirsty? Reach for water first.

It’s a fact. We consume too much sugar. The World Health Organization recommends we take in a maximum of five to 10 teaspoons of free sugars a day. Free sugar, or added sugar, is either added by you (i.e. to tea or coffee) or found, for example, in processed foods and fizzy drinks.

According to research from Wits University, South Africans consume between 12 and 24 teaspoons of sugar a day; and four to eight of those teaspoons are from sugar-sweetened beverages.

So, it might be time to rethink your consumption – sugar-sweetened beverages add kilojoules without any nutritional benefit

Why too much sugar is dangerous

Sugar delivers empty kilojoules – you’re getting no fibre, vitamins, minerals or other nutrients. Aside from leading to weight gain and dental caries, drinking large amounts of sugary drinks can put you at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and gout.

A 15-year study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who got 25% or more of their daily kilojoules from sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease compared with those whose diets included less than 10% added sugar.

Check the sugar content

The best way to find out how much sugar is in a beverage is to check the product label, which will tell you more about the ingredients used to manufacture the drink, as well as a breakdown of the nutrients it contains.

The ingredients on a food label are listed in order of descending weight. That means if sugar is at the top of the list, there’s more sugar than any other single ingredient in the product. A good rule of thumb is to scan the first three items to see what the beverage’s main ingredients are.

Remember, sugar comes in many forms and goes by different names. So, aside from the obvious sugar and brown sugar, look out for corn syrup, dextrose, fruit juice concentrates, sucrose, glucose, honey, invert sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, syrup and cane sugar.

Next you’ll want to look at the nutritional information on the food label. Find the words “total sugar” and check how much sugar in grams is written next to it. The label should indicate the nutritional information per 100ml and may also include the per-serving size. Keep in mind, though, that the serving size is determined by the manufacturer and may differ from product to product.

Now you’ll need to do a bit of simple maths to calculate the number of teaspoons of sugar. By dividing the grams of total sugar by four, you will find out how many teaspoons the drink contains. For example, if a 330ml cold drink has 32g of sugar, divide 32 by four. That equals eight teaspoons of sugar!

On average, this is how much sugar per 500ml serving (two average-sized glasses) some sugar-sweetened drinks contain:

  • Sweetened fizzy drinks: 13-17 teaspoons
  • Energy drinks: 13.5-15 teaspoons
  • Sweetened fruit juices: 12-16 teaspoons
  • Sweetened iced teas: 8-10 teaspoons
  • Flavoured waters: 4-8 teaspoons
Best swaps for sugar-laden drinks
  • Infuse water with refreshing fruit and herbs – try watermelon, oranges, lime, strawberries or mint. Another clever trick is to freeze chopped-up fruit with water in an ice-cube tray. Add the cubes to your beverage for instant flavour and colour on a hot summer’s day.
  • Make your own juice but do keep your serving to half a glass at a time and add lots of ice. Try a combination of ginger, apple and carrot for a flavour explosion.
  • Swap a soft drink for sparkling mineral water, and add a slice or two of lemon and a mint sprig.
The importance of nutrient-rich dairy and fortified beverages

Calcium is an important part of a balanced diet and helps build and maintain healthy bones, teeth and muscle mass. Get an extra boost of calcium in your diet by drinking plant-based beverages fortified with calcium – just be sure to choose the unsweetened varieties. If you’re looking for the most nutrients with the least amount of fat and kilojoules, then shop for fat-free or low-fat options.

How much juice can you drink a day?

Experts recommend drinking a maximum of 125 to 150ml of fruit juice per day. Although 100% fruit juice is a great source of nutrients, it’s actually possible to get too much of a good thing! Your best bet is to eat whole fruits and veg for their vitamin, mineral and fluid content. Plus, actual food tends to be more satisfying – and you’ll get the added value of fibre and phytonutrients from the skin and pulp.

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