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Raise a glass to better beverages

Publish date: 12/03/2014

Tags: Caffeine , Obesity , Sugar

We know it’s important to watch what we eat if we want to stay healthy, but how much do you know about the fluids that you drink? Knowing more about the hidden health impact of our favourite drinks is an important way to keep in good shape.

Sugar – the sweet health threat

On a hot day, at a party or when watching television, a glass of something sweet and fizzy can seem a good choice – it will help keep your alcohol intake down and still adds a bit of sparkle to the occasion. But it could be creating health problems.

It isn’t the fizz in your soft drink that matters – it’s the sugar. In a recent study published in the Journal of American Medical Association scientists found that having one fizzy drink a day could increase your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD) by up to almost one third. Eating a lot of sugar has also been linked to a greater risk of becoming obese and developing type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

The problem is the added sugars that sweet fizzy drinks contain. Cutting back on added sugars – in drinks and food ‒ will help to reduce your calorie intake, and help to keep your weight under control. That’s important because being overweight increases your risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.

What’s hiding in your fruit juice?

Fruit juice is good for us, isn’t it? After all, it’s included as a possible fruit/vegetable portion in the ‘five a day’ list. ‘We think fruit juice is wonderful, but it is actually sugar,’ says nutrition expert Ursula Arens, spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association (BDA). ‘Orange juice, even freshly squeezed, is sugar plus vitamin C and some other nutrients. But the calories are the same and the sugar is the same as in other sweetened drinks.’

Juice doesn’t make us feel full as quickly as fruit does, so we drink more of it. That means that we take in more calories, and are likely to put on weight. And as Ursula Arens explains, “Obesity is a clearly defined risk factor for heart disease.”

But it isn’t just weight that’s at stake. Fruit juice can harm our teeth too.

‘The biggest problem related to dental decay is not how much sugar you eat, but how often you eat it,’ says Ursula Arens. Every time you eat something containing sugar, it reacts with the bacteria in the plaque on your teeth and forms acids. These soften and dissolve the enamel. The more often you eat sugar, the more often the enamel on your teeth comes under attack.

The answer is to eat less sugar and try to limit or avoid intakes of sugary foods between meals.


Drinking more than the government recommended daily amounts means that you are at higher risk of damaging your health. Sometimes those effects are visible within a few hours.

Alcohol affects your brain, which means you may lose your sense of balance, and sway and stagger. Vomiting and dehydration with the risk of long-term brain damage are other possibilities. Plummeting blood sugar levels could cause seizures.

The long-term effects on your health can include increased risk of liver cirrhosis, cancer of the mouth, neck and throat, as well as breast cancer and high blood pressure.

However, moderate drinking can have some health benefits. Some studies have shown that light to moderate drinkers have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death than non-drinkers. They may also have a reduced risk of diabetes.

How much? Your daily guidelines

Not sure what your daily fluid consumption should be? Here’s a quick guide.

The European Food Safety Authority recommends that women should drink about 1.6 litres of fluid a day. For men it’s about 2.0 litres of fluid.


‘Most of what you’re drinking for hydration should be water’ says Ursula Arens. ‘Water is wonderful, and you can drink it straight out of the tap’ Water helps our bodies to function, transporting waste out of our systems, and transporting nutrients to where they’re needed.


The NHS recommends that:
*Men should not regularly drink more than 3 to 4 units of alcohol a day.
*Women should not regularly drink more than 2 to 3 units of alcohol a day.

Fruit juice

In a recent edition of The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal, Professor Naveed Sattar and Dr Jason Gill, both from Glasgow University, called for fruit juice containers to be better labelled so consumers can clearly see advice to drink no more than 150ml of fruit juice a day.

Sweetened drinks

Because sweetened drinks tend to have little or no nutritional value, and are high in sugar and calories, try to keep them to a minimum.

Healthy alternatives

Tea is another wonderful drink,’ says Ursula Arens. ‘It contains some caffeine, but the amounts are modest. Health-wise, there’s nothing bad about it.’ Herbal teas, such as chamomile and peppermint, are also good for hydration.

Coffee is also a good way of taking in water. It does have a higher caffeine content than tea, especially something like an espresso, and some people may be sensitive to the effects of too much caffeine. Milk provides you with water, calcium, protein and vitamin B. However, because of the saturated fat it contains, it’s best to drink semi-skimmed (under 2% fat), 1% or skimmed milk. (This doesn’t apply to children under five.)

Vegetable juice is an alternative way of getting some of your vitamins, however, because of the lack of fibre it isn’t a replacement for vegetables. Remember to read the label for sugar content.

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