It’s hot out there these days and I find I’m thirstier than normal. Walking into the building today at the Fairmont Campus, I noticed the wellness poster, “Re-Think Your Drink.” It reminded me that Alameda County Public Health Department, Nutrition Services is still running their 7th annual Soda Free Summer Campaign. Did you know “Soda Free Summer” started right here in Alameda County in 2007? Many AHS employees and their families are committing to their health by participating and reducing or eliminating sweetened beverages and sugary foods from their diets this summer.
Sugar, or sucrose, seems to get a bad name these days. Everything we eat is converted to another sugar called glucose and processed to give our bodies energy. In fact, our brain runs nearly entirely on glucose. The problem with sugar in our diets these days is that much of it comes from a third sugar called fructose,* as in “high-fructose corn syrup” — what’s in most sugary drinks and processed foods that we consume.
*I should mention that fructose is also the main sugar in FRUIT, but we’re not talking about whole fruit here. We’re talking about fructose extracted from whole foods, whether in the form of HFCS or fruit juice. Fructose, in the presence of the fiber and micronutrients that come in nature’s wonderful whole-fruit packaging, is not a problem.
I remember watching “Little House on the Prairie” on TV when I was young. It was adapted from a series of children’s novels by Laura Ingalls Wilder about life growing up on the prairie in the Midwest during the late 1800’s. There was an episode where Laura and her sister went to the country store with their family and were treated to a simple stick of sugar to lick like a lollipop.
Throughout my youth, I had a constant supply of sugary drinks and processed foods– sodas or sweetened ice tea, a candy treat delivered daily by my grandfather, doughnuts on Saturday mornings. I loved pancakes doused in syrup and cookies from the cookie jar. It’s no wonder that years later my body would still crave sweets. Was I addicted to sweets? Maybe so.
Dr. Oz says that it takes the brain about 3 to 4 weeks to re-wire itself and get comfortable with any new habit. According to Oz, it’s better to substitute good habits in the place of bad habits, as we all know that breaking a habit alone can sometimes prove impossible. As you work towards giving up sugary drinks like soda, fruit punch, fruit juice, energy drinks and sweetened tea, try some healthy substitutions. Diluting a no-sugar-added fruit juice with sparkling water is a great way to make a tasty spritzer. You could also infuse your water with fresh fruit. Drinking unsweetened tea, cold or hot, and incorporating cooling smoothies are good choices too for this time of year.
Sugary drinks have been linked to the occurrence of obesity, type-2 diabetes, and heart disease and are the largest contributor to added sugars in our diets. As you re-think your drinks this summer, take small steps towards your goal. If you trip and fall, get back up and have a sip of water or another healthy alternative to get back on track. Be gentle and kind with your thoughts about yourself. Your small steps towards better health add up to big leaps forward on the path to a healthier life. Have FUN with your journey to better health!