How much sugar did you drink today?

Energy drinks, fruit juices, smoothies, coffees, sodas, sweetened teas, and flavored waters. We love ‘em! But that little innocent sweet tooth that we are all born with has taken over our lives and, unfortunately, derailed our concept of what a healthy diet is.

Back in the day, before the energy drinks and fruit smoothies ever existed, it was considered a treat to get a soda with your meal, and for most families this didn’t happen very often, usually only when you ate out. And when you did get that treat, it was served to you in a small glass or bottle, maybe eight ounces or so. And your fruit juice used to be served in a four-ounce glass. Just enough. And it was special.

Fast forward forty or fifty years and enter today’s world. That eight-ounce soda and four-ounce glass of orange juice have turned into 20 and 30-ounce drinks. And not only are we dealing with increased sizes, but there are now dozens of these sugary options luring you in from every street corner. We can get them hot, cold, caffeinated, and caramelized. We have been told that they can take the place of your breakfast, your daily fruit servings – even your water. And we believe the hype.

This love affair with sugary drinks used to be exciting and fun. So intriguing. Well, as can happen, our love affair has turned into an unhealthy relationship. Our overconsumption of sugar has caused us heartache (literally!), overweight and obesity, an epidemic of diabetes, as well as a myriad of other inflammatory conditions, all of which have been shown to decrease our life spans. And one of the biggest problems is that these chronic diseases are being seen in younger and younger people.

I see 10 and 12-year olds at popular coffee shops in the morning ordering beverages, and some of these drinks contain over 90 grams of sugar.  What does that really mean?

Go get a pencil and paper and write this down:

One level teaspoon of sugar contains four grams of sugar.

Now go put it up on your refrigerator. I’ll wait.

Now, back to those 12-year olds. Ninety grams of sugar divided by four grams of sugar per teaspoon means that in that one beverage, they are consuming almost 23 TEASPOONS of sugar. TEASPOONS! That’s 360 empty calories. Wow.

Try to find one parent who would allow their child to put 23 teaspoons of sugar on their cereal in the morning. Or any sensible adult that would willingly add 23 teaspoons to their morning coffee. Not an easy job, is it?

This problem didn’t exist forty years ago, but it’s our reality today. We have to get a better handle, not only on the amount of sugar that we are drinking (let’s not even talk about all of the other sugar we eat every day!), but also the impact that this is having on our health and longevity. It’s not good. There also seems to be a belief that because we are drinking a beverage and it doesn’t really make us feel full, the calories and sugar don’t count. Like they somehow magically turn into a fine mist and float out through our pores. We have to change this thinking, because they count more than you know. Fruit juices, sodas, energy drinks – it’s all just sugar.

The good news is that it’s never too late to change. You don’t have to give up your favorite coffee drink, you just have to ask for smaller sizes, less syrup, and/or sugar alternatives. The choices are there. Of course, you could always just throw them all out the window and opt for good old-fashioned water, but that may be asking for too much too soon.

Ideally, we should aim for six teaspoons of added sugar daily – and no, this doesn’t include the natural sugars found in fruits, dairy, and other healthy-carbohydrate foods. Read your nutrition labels and pay attention to your sugar intake – that note you just put up on your refrigerator will help you visualize how much sugar you are getting. If the number of teaspoons sounds like too much, make a different choice!

We can prevent ourselves from becoming the next statistic, the next person with diabetes or obesity. It’s not as tough as you may think. We can do it. We have to.