Think Before You Drink

Posted 07/30/2013 | By HealthCorps

This summer, HealthCorps coordinator Tenaj Ferguson is blogging about her experience at Camp Pennbrook. You can read her first post here & her second post here.

One of HealthCorps’ most popular lessons continues to be “Think Before You Drink.” And no, we are not quite talking about alcoholic beverages, but rather the sugar in our beverages!

The girls at Camp Pennbrook already know about being a critical consumer — this is being an aware, informed and choosy buyer regarding our food and drinks. Students often have a love-hate relationship with this lesson because it reveals the truth about their favorite sweet tea drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, juices, diet drinks and even flavored waters!

Who would have suspected that beverages could contribute to being overweight. It’s just a liquid, right? Wrong.

This lesson heightened student concern and urgency to improve beverage choices. The girls at Camp Pennbrook were taught how to visualize grams of sugar in their drinks by converting the grams to teaspoons. This conversion is important as we quickly found out little to no one knew what one gram (or 44 grams of sugar!) looked like. By converting the grams to teaspoons, the students and I were able to see the sugar as a more tangible unit of measurement. The girls were shocked to actually see how much sugar was actually in their drinks.

One soda had seventeen teaspoons of sugar and another soft drink had eleven teaspoons of sugar. The girls were hit with the sugar shock factor! Seeing their faces, I knew that they would remember to check the nutrition label on their drinks in the future.

While the girls did not sign up for math class this summer, they were sure doing lots of math, such as converting grams to teaspoons and looking at serving size and the amount per container. They also looked at servings per container, as it is sometimes represented. When we talked about sugar in our drinks, we noticed that most drinks were packaged in bottles or containers with more than one serving. Simultaneously, we also pointed out that when we are given more, we typically drink more.

The girls said they could each drink a 20 fl oz bottle of soda on their own, which contains 2.5 servings. They also shared that they drink the whole can of sweet tea, which has 3 servings in the container, and they can even guzzle the 4 servings per container sized sports drink. The girls had great questions, such as “why would people put more servings in the bottle if they know it’s unhealthy for us?”

I loved the direction of this question because I knew the girls were starting to think about who has the power to make our food choices. As with most things, we want to find out who is the “culprit.” While the food industry and food marketing industry have a large role in our seemingly out of whack sense of portions for food and drink, we have to remember that we are ultimately empowered to be a critical consumer and to equip ourselves with knowledge to make the smartest health decisions.  We have the power to choose water over soft drinks because it is better for us and we are also empowered to reduce our consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

I left the girls with a few quick tips and reminders to consider!

I’ll also share them with you:

  1. As often as possible, choose water.
  2. There is no substitute for pure water.
  3. Diet sodas and diet drinks can be helpful in reducing calories and sugar, but beware of frequent consumption of diet drinks and artificial sweeteners, as they come with increased long-term health risks (Alzheimer’s and cancers).
  4. Make water festive by infusing fruit in pieces or slices. The flavor will be great and the water will be more refreshing.
  5. Sports drinks are often misused and abused. They have a purpose and it is to replenish electrolytes and to rehydrate the body. An hour of Zumba or jogging warrants water — not necessarily a sport drink.
  6. A great natural option instead of a sports drink is nature’s own rehydrater — coconut water. This contains all the electrolytes one needs to replenish and repair.
  7. Energy drinks are harmful! Beware of what you are putting in your body (can’t resist these drink? Then remember that Taurine, a popular ingredient in energy drinks was first taken from the bile of a bull). Need I say more?
  8. 4g equals 1 teaspoon
  9. ¾ cup of 100% fruit juice counts as a serving of fruit juice.
  10. Be a critical consumer. Evaluate the nutrition label and be sure to read the ingredients list for drinks.
  11. Extra sugar that the body doesn’t use is stored as FAT.
  12. Sugar is a serious matter! Excess sugar can cause obesity, as well as diabetes.
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