Rethink Your Drink
By Peggy A. Thomas
Cold winter days make it hard to get excited about cool refreshing drinks. Despite the chilly weather outside, it’s always good to break some old habits and rethink your drink.
One healthy habit families can take on together is changing the approach to what they drink. According to the American Heart Association, sugary drinks have a powerful impact on the health of Americans. As a mother, wife, sister, friend, nurse and member of the AHA, my goal is to help educate others on how changing one simple thing can enhance their health and the health of those they care about.
Sugary drinks are the leading source of calories in the American diet and contribute to the obesity epidemic we’re currently facing. Literature shows that the average American consumes 39 pounds of sugar per year from sugary drinks. That’s roughly a quarter cup of sugar per day. One 20-ounce cola drink packs 16 teaspoons of sugar. Energy drinks that are promoted as healthier choices can be just as damaging, packing 13 teaspoons into a 16-ounce beverage.
The effects of this high calorie consumption are alarming. Studies have linked it to weight gain and increased body mass index. Right now, more than one third of adults are obese. Nearly one in three kids and teens is overweight or obese.
The benefits of limiting sugary drinks go beyond the waistline and can affect skin, memory and overall energy levels. Since sugary drinks are the No. 1 source of added sugar to our diets, a simple swap can have extremely positive effects on one’s own health and the health of those we care about. As easily as it can be added, it can be subtracted with some simple tricks to enhance the flavor of healthier choices.
As a busy working mother and wife, I know the challenges of satisfying the cravings while watching the waistline and grocery bill. Tricks that are easier in the summer maybe more challenging in the long winter months when a nice cold glass of water doesn’t seem so appealing.
I’ve tried several appeals to my family to drink up when it comes to healthier choices. Some have failed, but some have been successful. I found it best to start with the visual. With the help of heart.org, you can find tools like the Sugar Shuffle game to play with children or Sugar Sweetened Handout to share with teens and help create awareness about the amount of sugar in the drinks we consume.
Making better choices easier has worked best for my family. We skip the soda aisle at the grocery store and load up on water, with additions ranging from cucumber to mint to berries to freshen our drink. The internet is full of information on how to spruce up your drink and target specific health features based on the fruits, herbs and/or vegetables you add. Mixing water with favorable additions and having it ready in the fridge makes the choice that much easier for a busy family.
Having fun cups with straws for home and several travel bottles for on-the-go helps push the water choice, as well. The addition of ice cubes to a simple glass of water has also been known to give it a little more appeal. For younger children, reusable ice cubes in various shapes can add another layer of interest to the choice. And water isn’t the only choice out there to Rethink Your Drink. Fat-free and low-fat milk, as well as teas and diet soft drinks, can add some variety while skipping the sugar.
Obesity is a continued battle for Americans and is related to several chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Making the simple swap from a quarter-cup of sugar to a glass of water with some ice and lemon could have a lasting impact on you and your family’s health. Habits put into place today with younger family members will stay with them for many years to come. As mothers, wives, sisters and friends, it’s time to help those we love put down the sugar and Rethink Our Drink. SWM
Peggy A. Thomas MSN, RN, is the administrator of periop and invasive services at St. Joseph Health and an American Heart Association board member.