Swimming in sweetness

So how much sugar is lurking in the things you eat and drink?

It adds up. That popular sports drink, for example, has five teaspoons of sugar. That orange soda contains a whopping 13 teaspoons.

Last year, the World Health Organization recommended that healthy adults consume no more than six teaspoons of sugar per day — half the amount of their previous recommendation. The American Heart Association recommends no more than six to nine teaspoons per day. (UPDATE: The federal government’s advisory panel on nutrition released new recommendations Thursday, for the first time advising specific limits on added sugar, saying it should make up no more than 10 percent of daily calories, or about 12 teaspoons a day for adults on average.)

So one drink, and you could be at or near your daily maximum. So much for that slice of cheesecake for desert.

And given the link between too much sugar and serious health problems such as diabetes and obesity, there’s a new push to make people aware of the numbers so that they can make better decisions for themselves and their families when deciding what to drink with that sandwich.

Bexar County Commissioners Court on Tuesday approved a resolution supporting a campaign urging people to limit the sugar-sweetened beverages they — and their children — drink, and to support initiatives to steer kids to healthier alternatives.

“We have some significant health problems in San Antonio, particularly in respect to diabetes and obesity,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said. “Americans are consuming some 80 pounds of added sugar per person per year. Think of that — 80 pounds of sugar.”

The resolution calls for:

  • Supporting the accessibility, availability and affordability of healthy beverages by encouraging people to drink water and other healthy beverages as alternatives.
  • Collaborating with state and local health departments to launch public awareness campaigns that promote healthy beverages.
  • Working with restaurants and other food retailers to limit portion sizes of sugar-sweetened beverages and remove sugar-sweetened beverages from kids menus.
  • Partnering with state and local policymakers to restrict the types of beverages that may be sold to students on public school campuses with an emphasis on sugar-sweetened beverages.

Bexar County’s isn’t the only voice warning about sugary drinks. Linking sugar-sweetened beverages to the rise in obesity, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified reducing the consumption of these beverages as a target behavior to prevent and control obesity.

Dr. Bryan Alsip, executive vice president and chief medical officer of University Health System, told commissioners that science supports the idea of limiting sweet drinks.

These sugar-sweetened drinks “are really one of the contributors toward the rapid rise in obesity in our community, and across the country,” Dr. Alsip said. “It’s easy to point to soft drinks, but we find (sugars) in energy drinks, in fruit juices, in beverages people have for breakfast. We find them in sweet tea, which is very popular in our community.”

These drinks lead to health problems such as obesity and diabetes, but also heart disease, kidney failure and dental disease — both tooth decay and gum disease, he added.

Water, Dr. Alsip said, is the ideal drink for hydration. And it contains no calories.

So how much sugar is in that drink you’re holding? Here’s a pretty good breakdown from the Harvard School of Public Health.

 Photo by Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo