Sugar Sweetened Beverages


In my opinion, these are the most fattening foods on the planet.  We all think about soda pop as the worst culprit, but there are many other beverages that are just as bad. Many people fail to realize that fruit juices (all of them) contain nearly as much sugar as soda pop and are nearly as dangerous.  Other offending beverages include sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade, energy drinks like Monster or Red Bull, sweetened coffee drinks, sugar in your coffee, sweet tea, lemonade, and Kool-Aid.


Most people point to the fact that sugar sweetened beverages are empty calories that contain tons of sugar as the reason they should be avoided.  However, their true danger is much more subtle and sinister.  Our body has a complicated system that addresses thirst and a completely separate one that handles hunger.  There is little to no crossover between the two systems.  We understand this intuitively. Drinking a glass of water does little to satisfy your hunger and eating a steak will not make you less thirsty.  When we drink a sugar sweetened beverage, it is tallied in the thirst column- not the hunger column.  The net result is the immediate storage of the calories contained in the beverage with no modification of your hunger. The perfect recipe for weight gain.


Because our metabolic thermostat is always functioning to adjust our hunger and metabolic rate, we are very good at matching the calories we consume to those that we burn.  We all know people who weigh the same amount that they did 20 years ago.  These people have such a high functioning thermostat that they’ve been able to balance their calorie consumption and calorie expenditure down to the last crumb.  Over 20 years, storing 10 more calories per day than you burn will result in 20 pounds of weight gain. So, if you weigh the same as you did 20 years ago, you must have burned exactly the same number of calories that you’ve consumed.  Over twenty years, this is a remarkable task that could never be accomplished through discipline or willpower. It can only be accomplished through tight physiologic regulation.  

If you are consuming sugar sweetened beverages on a regular basis, you are consistently delivering calories that are not considered by your metabolic thermostat.  Because the sugar is delivered in liquid form, our brain focuses on the liquid- not the calories.  You’ll be less thirsty after downing a soft drink, but not less hungry.  This has been demonstrated in multiple studies that measure food consumption patterns after ingesting sugar in either liquid or solid form.  Those that consumed the sugar in solid form (usually candy in most studies) will decrease their subsequent food consumption by an amount equal to the number of calories contained in the candy.  Their metabolic thermostat recognizes the calories in the candy and the subject subconsciously eats less throughout the remainder of the day.  Those who consumed the sugar in liquid form (sugar sweetened beverages) did not adjust their future calorie consumption since their metabolic thermostat ignored the sugar because it was delivered in liquid form.


Drinking just one 12 ounce sugar sweetened beverage per day has the potential to increase your storage of calories to the tune of 15 pounds per year.  We often rationalize the comparatively low number of calories in these beverages in comparison to the total number we consume each day. However, it’s critical to recognize that calories in liquid form are not equal to those in solid form.  Step number one of any weight loss plan (surgical or non-surgical) must be to immediately eliminate all sugar sweetened beverages from your diet.  While many think that this is easier said than done, caffeine is really the trigger here. If you replace the caffeine that you were consuming in the sugary drink, it is not a difficult change to make.  Substituting your caffeinated, sugar sweetened beverage with coffee (without sugar), tea (iced or warm), or even caffeinated water (there are several brands available), will allow you to eliminate these potent set point elevating beverages from your life once and for all.

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