Q: I’m trying to cut down on sugar (including low-calorie sweeteners), but I’m getting bored with plain water, which leads to me to not drinking enough. Any suggestions?
A: Cutting down on sugar. Drinking more water. Two wise and commendable health goals!
The commonly cited motto promoting eight ounces of fluids eight times a day no longer (sorry) holds water. In 2004, the Institute of Medicine, a government health advisory organization, offered an update in its Dietary Reference Intakes report, saying that fluid needs (not just water) vary widely from person to person and should be based on the climate one lives in and one’s food choices. Most healthy people, the IOM report said, can let thirst be their hydration barometer. The general recommendation for fluids: 91 ounces a day for women and 125 for men.
“People who need a prescriptive hydration schedule [translation: drinking X ounces of X every X minutes] are those who exercise intensely or work in hot and humid conditions for more than an hour a day,” says Christine Rosenbloom, a dietitian and emeritus nutrition professor at Georgia State University.
“Others who may ignore thirst or not be able to recognize it as a sign to drink up are the elderly, young children, people with certain illnesses or those on medications that can be dehydrating,” says Jill Weisenberger, a dietitian and author in Newport News, Va.
Limiting Added Sugars
We use the term sugar loosely; however, by definition, sugar is sucrose. It’s made from sugar cane or sugar beet to sweeten foods.
There are two kinds of sugar to remember: One is naturally occurring sugars in foods, such as sucrose in fruit or lactose in milk. The other, added sugars, is a variety of calorie-containing sweeteners, such as sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate and honey, which are added to foods during food processing and in preparation of foods and beverages.
The 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report recommends that Americans consume no more than 10 percent of their total calories in the form of added sugars. For a person who needs 2,000 calories a day, that’s 12 teaspoons of added sugars. The report bases this advice on strong research making the link between excess added sugars and excess body weight in children and adults. The report also draws a strong relationship between excess added sugars and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes in adults.
We now consume about 270 calories per day from added sugars, according to the report, which adds up to about 13 percent of total calories or about 17 teaspoons. Nearly 40 percent of these calories are from sugar-sweetened beverages, whether soda, fruit punch, sports and energy drinks, or souped-up coffees and teas. You’re right to make limiting added sugars a priority health goal.
Don’t Dismiss Diet Drinks
Low-calorie sweeteners used in diet beverages or added to foods and drinks regularly get an unwarranted bad rap. The reality is, a number of low-calorie sweeteners have over the years been reviewed by the FDA and other global regulatory bodies and, after substantial review, are allowed on the market. Various low-calorie sweeteners are used as ingredients in foods and beverages and as tabletop sweeteners.
Regarding safety, even the American Academy of Pediatrics, in its 2015 Policy Statement on Snacks, Sweetened Beverages, Added Sugars, and Schools, stated, “Several nonnutritive sweeteners have been accepted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as safe and have shown good safety over time.”
Despite what you might read and hear, the overwhelming research shows diet drinks are safe to consume and can offer calorie savings. “They don’t trick your brain to crave more sweets or cause weight gain. Research shows that diet beverages can offer an assist in weight control if you use them to replace sugar-sweetened beverages and don’t replace the calories saved with other calorie-containing foods,” Rosenbloom says.
Tasty Tips for Tanking Up
Here are some ways to get your fill of fluids, whether at home, on the run or in restaurants, when plain, boring water just doesn’t satisfy.
– “To brighten the taste of water, attach a filter to your faucet or use a pitcher with a filter,” Weisenberger suggests.
– Stock club soda, sparkling water or diet tonic water for no-calorie alternatives.
– Enjoy iced tea made with a favorite brew. There are countless options to choose from.
– Rosenbloom quenches her thirst with flavored sparkling water all year round. At home she concocts what she calls sparkling sangria. She puts a few berries, lemon wedges or orange slices in a tall glass and then pours in club soda or sparkling water.
– Brew extra coffee. Refrigerate it for iced coffee.
– Weisenberger suggests flavoring water with vegetables and/or herbs. Try cucumber slices, mint, lavender, ginger root or basil. Get creative and use flavors that please your palate.
– Make your own lemonade or limeade. At home or in restaurants, squeeze lemon or lime into your water. Sweeten it with your preferred low-calorie sweetener or a bit of sugar.
– Add an unsweetened flavored powder product to water or sparkling water. Mix up a batch for home, or carry the one-serving packages.
– Get your fill of fruits and vegetables every day. They’re mainly water and count toward your fluid goals.
And please do me a favor: As you work to stay hydrated, do so in an environmentally friendly manner. Tote your favorite fluids in a refillable bottle.
Hope Warshaw, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, is the author of numerous books published by the American Diabetes Association.