Have a Coke and Smile!

If I were to state that soda was an unhealthy drink, you likely wouldn’t argue with me. We all know that it is void of any vitamins or nutrients. For most of my lifetime, soda has been the number one beverage of choice in the US. Over the past 10 years, it has received more than its fair share of negative press. So much, that it is now considered as the fifth most popular beverage of choice. We have been trained as consumers to believe whatever gets the most press, more specifically, negative press. If we actually looked at the labels of our alternate choice to soda, we would see that what we are ingesting is actually worse than soda. Perhaps all we are really doing instead of making a “healthy choice” is simply taking a stand against soda by telling ourselves when we reach for that flavored latte or fruit juice, “Well, it’s not soda, right?”

This is not an indictment against any of us who indulge in sodas or any of the drinks I am about to discuss below. This article is merely for informational purposes so that you may be better informed about the “healthy” choices you are making. Using the typical can of soda as a baseline—40 grams of sugar and 150 calories—here are five drinks you’d never expect to be worse for you.

Let’s keep score; Ready? Go!

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Energy Drinks:

A few months ago, I wrote about the false allure of energy drinks. Energy drinks can be a shock to your system, loaded with huge amounts of caffeine and sugar in an effort to provide a jolt. The boost is obvious, but the crash is inevitable.

Most energy drinks are nutritionally equivalent to soda—with more caffeine. A 12-ounce serving of one popular energy drink contains 160 calories, 42 grams of carbohydrates and 41 grams of sugar. Another has 210 calories, 46 grams of carbohydrates and 46 grams of sugar.

Edge: Soda

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Flavored Coffee:

A small cup of coffee is low in calories and healthy. Add in a dash of cream and a spoonful of sugar and it’s still not nutritionally terrible. I have been a ‘Dunkin guy’ since college. I think it’s safe to assume that there is more than a dash of cream and a spoonful of sugar in a “regular” coffee. But some of those flavored coffee creations you find at coffee shop chains are dentist daydreams.

Flavored lattes—especially the seasonal offerings—are some of the biggest offenders. A 12-ounce Pumpkin Spice Latte packs in 300 calories, 11 grams of fat, 40 grams of carbohydrates and 38 grams of sugar. A Caramel Brûlée Latte of the same size has even more calories (340), 11 grams of fat, 52 grams of carbohydrates and 40 grams of sugar.

To put those numbers in perspective, both of those drinks contain more calories than a six-piece Chicken McNugget, more fat than you’d get from five Rice Krispy Treats, and roughly the same amount of sugar as you’d find in a can of soda.

Edge: Soda

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Flavored Milk:

Lactose in plain milk actually boasts a high sugar content of about 20 grams in a 12-ounce serving, but adding flavor to them is where we really rack up the sugar cubes. However, if you’re a parent like me, you have been trained to give your children milk because “they need the calcium”, if adding some chocolate syrup gets them to drink it, than that’s sound ‘parental’ logic, never to be confused with ‘scientific’ logic. As is it, the way milk is manufactured today we don’t get nearly what we think we are getting from it, and there are good substitutes like almond and soy milk.

Banana strawberry flavored milk has 255 calories, 43 grams of carbohydrates and 42 grams of sugar. Vanilla milk has similar nutrition facts, as does strawberry.

Flavored milks are loaded with protein, making them more suitable for a post-workout recovery drink than a staple drink with every meal.

Edge: Soda

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Fruit Juices:

News flash! Not all juice is made from fruit. Really!

Kids love juice. Why? Because kids like sugar. Many juices are absolutely no better than soda, but they aren’t as closely scrutinized (perhaps because some associate juice with fruit). A 12-ounce serving of apple juice, a lunch box staple, contains 180 calories, 43.5 grams of carbohydrates and 42 grams of sugar—nearly as much sugar as you’d get from five Fudgsicles.

How many of us start our day with orange juice? It does deliver a lot of vitamin C, but a 12-ounce serving will set you back 165 calories, 39 grams of carbohydrates and 33 grams of sugar. Perhaps a glass of water and orange may do the trick best.

Edge: Soda

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Sweet Teas:

Unsweetened iced tea and many herbal, black and green teas have numerous health benefits (most are rich in antioxidants). Those are great. But the canned or bottled versions and the sweetened teas you find at most restaurants are ones you have to watch out for.

A certain fast food giant serves up a sweet tea that contains 110 calories, 27 grams of carbohydrates and 27 grams of sugar per 12-ounce serving. Not to terrible right? Wrong. On average, the size sold is large because it’s only $1. This means it actually delivers two of those servings, meaning you will take in 220 calories, 54 grams of carbohydrates and 54 grams of sugar.

Edge: Push (Sodas are $1 too)

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And the winner is soda! Wait? What?

Ok, there really is no winner when you consider that none of these choices is really a “better” choice than the next. I understand that we have more choices than just these five alternatives that I mentioned, but agreeably, these are some of the most popular alternative ‘choices’ we make. Like I mention at the beginning, this is not an indictment on personal choices or healthy habits. I have never been one to preach about the perfect dietary habits of man because I don’t practice that way. Perhaps we should simply call these beverages what they area, treats.

In the end, I firmly believe that indulgences in whatever forms they may come in, albeit food, fast cars, drinking etc., should be done in controlled moderations. Life is too short not to enjoy some of the finer things its has to offer us. I am reminded of the 1997 song performed by Baz Luhrmann; Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen.

“Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s. Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.”

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