‘No added sugar’ doesn’t make it sugarfree! | columns | Hindustan Times
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‘No added sugar’ doesn’t make it sugarfree!

columns Updated: Jun 01, 2013 23:26 IST

Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

It’s hot and you want a heathy option to cool down but the thought of going through countless fine-printed food labels makes your head spin some more. Unless you are very active — a feat worthy of Batman/Batgirl, given the villainous weather —and combust calories effortlessly, having water is the best bet. There are no unsafe limits, so no matter now much you have, it only does you good. Whether it is sourced from a mountain spring, an alpine lake, glacier or the municipal water supply, as long as it is filtered and free of impurities, it’s without doubt the healthiest hydrating option.

Adding anything to water complicates things almost at once. Sugar adds calories and makes blood glucose spike, salt makes blood pressure rise, caffeine dehydrates, artificial sweeteners make bones brittle, green tea often has pesticide, and the list of unspeakable things artificial colours and flavouring do is growing longer each day. Even undisputed health favourites, lassi or fresh lime lemonade, need heaps of salt and sugar or both to make the taste passable.

Low-sugar or sugar-free is an option, but not a heathy one. Researchers at Tufts University, studying several thousand men and women, found that women who drank three or more colas a day had almost 4% lower bone mineral density in the hip, even though researchers controlled for calcium and vitamin D intake. But women who drank non-cola soft drinks, like Sprite or Mountain Dew, didn't appear to have lower bone density. Another culprit in soft drinks is caffeine, which can interfere with calcium absorption. In the Tufts study, both caffeinated and non-caffeinated colas were associated with lower bone density.

The trouble is that even people who stick to diet colas make concessions for juice, especially if it is freshly-squeezed and has no sugar added. But the benefits are overstated. Juices are essentially water and sugar with flavour.

Though ‘no sugar added’ sounds good, it does not mean that it will have a low sugar content. Fruits have natural sugars called fructose, which do little harm when had as part of a whole fruit as the fibre in the fruit slows down its breaking down. But when you have fruit juice minus the pulp, here's a danger of your sugar levels rising. .

Part of the problem is that the calories in juice are so concentrated. Just half a glass (100 ml) apple juice has 60 calories, the same as a whole apple, but without the fibre that makes fruit filling.

Experts insist sugar — whether natural or refined — is sugar, and sweet drinks of any kind must be avoided. Apart from weight gain and it’s associated disorders, there are other risks. Women who choose plain water over sweetened tea, fizzy drinks or fruit juice, have a lower risk of developing diabetes, reported the Harvard School of Public Health after tracking 82,902 women over 12 years.

Each glass (200 ml) of sugar-sweetened drinks and fruit juice had in a day raise risk by about 10%. But if plain water was used to replace one cup of fizzy drink or fruit juice, diabetes risk fell by 7-8%.

Sweetened drinks hit children the hardest. Most children are super active till they are about 10 after which activity shifts from playgrounds to gaming consoles, tablets and PCs, making their fondness for sweetened drinks lead to problems ranging from bulging bellies and hypertension and brittle bones and tooth decay.

With the exception of milk, children don’t need any beverages with calories. Adults can do without milk too. What is needed to replace fluid loss and satisfy thirst is the beverage we’ve been drinking for generations, and that’s water.

Thirst is satisfied with water, hunger with solid foods. Sweet beverages -- whether natural, sweetened or sugar-free — can blur that line, so are best avoided.