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  • Writer's pictureDoug Joachim

Liquid Candy: Sports Drinks, Juice and Smoothies Deconstructed

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

Liquid calories are bad

Don’t fool yourself into believing your daily detoxing juice or pre-workout smoothie is anything more than liquid candy with a few extra vitamins. Most of these beverages are packed with tons of calories and sugar minus the all-important fiber. As a healthy adult, the only thing you should drink is water, seltzer, unsweetened tea, coffee and the occasional glass of wine. An argument can be made for full-fat milk and/or maybe unsweetened milk alternatives like almond, coconut, and hemp milk – but in moderation. Everything else is chock full of empty calories and sugar or it’s straight-up unhealthy. Sadly we have migrated away from eating whole foods in their natural state. We are a fast-food nation. Are we just too lazy to chew or is it something else because eating whole foods is the healthiest way to pack in nutrients and sate your appetite? Take a moment to deconstruct the beverages in your life so you can make better-informed decisions regarding your health.

“Habitual consumption of sugar sweetened beverages was associated with a greater incidence of type 2 diabetes, independently of adiposity. Although artificially sweetened beverages and fruit juice also showd positive associations with incidence of type 2 diabetes, the findings were likely to involve bias. None the less, both artificially sweetened beverages and fruit juice were unlikely to be healthy alternatives to sugar sweetened beverages for the prevention of type 2 diabetes. Under assumption of causality, consumption of sugar sweetened beverages over years may be related to a substantial number of cases of new onset diabetes.” –The British Journal of Sports Medicine – Systematic review & meta-analysis

The beverage industry wants us to drink other things than tap water and lots of it.  We don’t need any other liquid to live a healthy life (breast milk is an exception but that’s between you and your mom or girlfriend).  Food and beverage corporations have to show increased profits year after year by getting us to consume more products, regardless of the fact our bodies only need a finite amount of calories. Much of our food and beverages have been chemically altered in laboratories in order to trick our brains and increase our appetite and cravings.  Many nutritionists and dietitians believe the human body has adapted to this lifestyle and become accustomed to higher caloric intakes. This theory is debatable. Habitual overconsumption of calories leads to all sorts of problems including the manipulation of satiety and hunger hormones. Scientists have known for a long time that calories eaten from solid foods give you a greater feeling of fullness than calories consumed in liquid form.  Normally your body will increase its metabolic rate and activity level in accordance with excess energy consumed.  However, drinking calories will leave you feeling hungry and have little effect on your physical activity levels. Coupled with a dysfunctional endocrine system (in charge of hormone regulation) and our penchant for keeping our chairs warm, we are now facing a looming obesity/health epidemic.  You can draw a straight line from our ill health to our sugar consumption. Most of this comes from sweetened beverages.

Liquid Candy Factoids:

  1. Sugary drinks are the top source of calories in a teen’s daily diet, beating out pizza and ice cream.

  2. In the 1970’s sugary drinks made up 4% of the US daily caloric intake, today it is almost 10%!

  3. People who consume 1-2 sugary drinks per day are at a 25% higher risk of developing diabetes and 20% more likely to have a heart attack.

  4. A daily sugary beverage dramatically increases a woman’s risk of gout by 75%!

  5. Tons of studies show that drinking 1 sugared beverage or diet soda daily (or more) is linked to an increased risk of many types of cancer, high blood pressure, kidney damage and obesity.

  6. In the standard American diet (appropriately nicknamed SAD) liquids make up approximately 22% of the total calorie intake.

  7. The National Soft Drink Association (now the American Beverage Association) states un-ironically: “As refreshing sources of needed liquids and energy, soft drinks represent a positive addition to a well-balanced diet.”

  8. Studies funded by the beverage industry are four to eight times more likely to show a finding favorable to industry than independently-funded studies.

  9. One of the simplest ways to lose weight is to cut out all calorie based beverages.

juicing is unhealthy

The Worst Offenders:

Sodas Do I really have to go into this? Ok, they are loaded with sugar, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), high levels of acids that erode teeth, chemicals that leech essential micronutrients and minerals from the body, caffeine and various artificial flavors/colors banned in other countries. The caramel coloring in many sodas is now listed in California as a known carcinogen. Soda provides nothing your body needs (except for liquid if you are dying of thirst in the desert). Sodas are arguably the worst of all the sugared beverages. They are just plain terrible for you. I can continue, but I’m sure you are already aware of the unhealthy nature of soda. 

Note: I wish I could say the same about diet soda – check out the note below.

Sports & Protein Drinks are chock full of sugar, HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) caffeine, various other stimulants, empty calories and dyes banned in other countries. Some ‘sports drinks’ actually contain a fire retardant called BVO (Brominated Vegetable Oil) – banned in over 100 countries, which may be carcinogenic in large amounts. Funnily enough, the American Beverage Association defends its use of the flame retardant chemical BVO by stating “so is water.” Protein shakes can be very tasty and also quite calorific. Due to their designation as a supplement, the FDA does not regulate these beverages and it is not uncommon for impurities and even toxic heavy metals to be found in these drinks.  These shakes are expensive and have no benefit over whole foods – furthermore, you really don’t know what you are getting because these companies are regulating themselves with little to no oversight.

Flavored & Blended Coffee Concoctions are empty calories and caffeine bombs.  Some contain more than 700 calories! Hold the whipped cream and packets of sugar, please. Conversely, black coffee can be very healthy but once you start adding a bunch of other stuff to it, all bets are off.  A huge industrial flavor laboratory in New Jersey makes many of the added ‘flavors’ for coffees you’ll find at the supermarket and Starbucks. These flavors are essentially fragrances added together with a solvent to attach it to the coffee bean prior to roasting. And to make matters worse the most defective beans are usually used for this processing in order to cover up the poor quality and bad taste. Yum. Have some black coffee or unsweetened tea – these drinks are zero calories and full of antioxidants.

Beer & Mixed Cocktails are converted to ethanol which is preferentially processed in the liver for fuel – all the while postponing the ever-important fat burning process. There are a lot of empty calories in these beverages. A 12 0z. margarita can tip the scales at  375-475 calories – and many people don’t stop at one. Alcohol tends to increase one’s hunger, decrease willpower and the ability to make healthy choices. To be fair and even-handed: The Journal of the American Medicine Association concluded in a meta-analysis of 34 studies, “Low levels of alcohol intake (1-2 drinks per day for women and 2-4 drinks per day for men) are inversely associated with total mortality in both men and women. Our findings, while confirming the hazards of excess drinking, indicate potential windows of alcohol intake that may confer a net beneficial effect of moderate drinking, at least in terms of survival.” Like most things in life, moderation is key. But if you are trying to lose weight, steer clear of beer.

Smoothies In 5 minutes it is very easy to drink a 1000 calorie smoothie and exceed your RDA of sugar.  Blending fruit and/or vegetables destroys most of the fiber and thus causes ‘unnatural’ insulin spikes. It is a fact, liquid calories do not satisfy appetite as much as whole foods. Thus drinking a smoothie might not only leave you unsatisfied but hungry. Plus pulverizing food changes the rate and effect of nutrient digestion which is not fully understood. Turning foods into liquids dramatically raises their glycemic load, and how the food affects blood sugar and insulin levels. In the end, eating whole fruits and vegetables will be a much healthier way to go. Don’t fool yourself into believing a 12 oz. smoothie will satisfy all of your fruit and vegetable requirements for a day.

Juices spike your insulin levels very quickly and have high amounts of fructose, the most advantageous sugar for expedited fat storage. Juices contain little to no fiber. Physiologically, your body doesn’t know the difference between juice and soda. Except juice may have a bit more vitamins and less sodium. Science shows that blending or juicing fruits and veggies will rob them of one the most precious and healthiest nutrients, fiber – and even worse may potentially spike your glucose levels leaving you more hungry, fatter and insulin resistant. Many juices can have up to 6 pounds of fruit within a 16 oz serving of a cold-pressed beverage. Our bodies will digest the juice faster than whole foods thus clearing a path to the next meal much sooner. The American Academy of Pediatrics states: “Fruit juice, has NO essential role in healthy, balanced diets of children.” I’d go one step further and extend that recommendation to adults.

In regards to blenderizing your fruits and veggies Dr. Robert Lustig in his book “The Bitter Truth About Sugar” has this to say:

“The problem is that the shearing action of the blender blades completely destroys the insoluble fiber of the fruit. The cellulose is torn to smithereens. Whiles the soluble fiber is still there, and can help move food through the intestine faster, it now does not have the “latticework” of the insoluble fiber to help form that intestinal barrier.The sugar in the fruit will be absorbed just as fast as if the juice were strained with no fiber at all. You need both types of fiber to derive the beneficial effects.”

NOTE: Diet Sodas contain the same bad chemicals and dyes as in regular soda plus artificial sweeteners that just taste bad (in my humble opinion). However, to date, the best scientific data shows sucralose, aspartame, and saccharin are all generally regarded as safe. I would like to tell you diet sodas will give you cancer, dementia, and leprosy but the evidence is just not there. I can safely say, it is not good for your teeth but then again no soda is approved by your dentist. And yes, diet soda is heavily correlated with obesity but then again the divorce rate in Maine is heavily correlated with the per capita consumption of margarine. Correlation does not equal causation. Lastly, there is emerging evidence that diet soda may contribute to an unhealthy disturbance in one’s microbiome (which may promote weight gain) yet you’ll need to take that with a grain of salt because the science of the microbiota is nowhere near fully understood.

NOTE: Most sodas and sugary beverages (and many water bottles) come in cans or plastic bottles containing BPA which has been shown to cause hormone disruptions and birth defects. However, the research is inconclusive – most of it stems from studies done with animals (for obvious reasons, it is unethical to give high doses to humans). Nonetheless, it is hard to ignore this 2006 analysis which showed that 11 out of 11 industry-funded papers concluded BPA had ‘no significant health action’ – while 109 of 119 studies that had no industry funding did find effects of BPA. With the backlash against BPA some companies stopped using it and replaced it with a ‘safer’ synthetic compound based liner called BPS. Recent research shows BPA-free products using BPS may be just as harmful. In the end, it is safe to say that soda and most other plastic packaged foods should not play a role in anyone’s healthy diet.

Water is the healthiest thing you can drink and hydrates you a lot faster than any other liquid. H20 should make up the majority of the liquids you consume (although it is a myth that you need 8 glasses a day); a smattering of unsweetened coffee/tea and perhaps a glass of wine or two may also be beneficial.  Many other beverages are made up of empty calories, high sugar levels, and little fiber. Perhaps, instead of reaching for a juice eat some fruit or veggies and drink a glass of water, it’ll be healthier and your colon will thank you for it.

how much sugar in drinks

More Sources:

1. Intake of Sugar-sweetened Beverages & Weight Gain: A Systematic review. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

2. Effects of Soft Drink Consumption on Nutrition & Health: Meta-analysis. American Journal of Public Health

3. Sugar-sweetened Beverages, Weight Gain, & Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes. JAMA

4. Liquid Candy: How Sugar Drinks are Harming American Health – Center For Science In the Public Interest

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