Healthy Living: Restaurant beverages now higher in sugar, calories


At chain restaurants, sugar-sweetened beverages make up one-third of the menu.

Recently, a study looked at these drinks and compared their nutritional information from 2012 to 2017. The findings show that over time the options have increased and so has the amount of sugar and calories in these drinks.

After looking at more than 13,000 beverages from 63 U.S.-based chain restaurants, researchers found 81% of beverages found on children’s menus were sugar-sweetened beverages.

Children’s specialty beverages were higher in calories, saturated fats and carbohydrates than beverages on the regular menu and more than half of beverages served at restaurants contain more than 50 grams of sugar per serving — more than 12.5 teaspoons of sugar per beverage.

The American Heart Association recommends adult women consume 25 grams of added sugar daily, for adult men the recommendation is 36 grams per day.

To read the full study, click here.

Kara Shifler Bowers, a registered dietitian with Penn State PRO Wellness, says the amount of sugar in restaurant beverages is alarming.

She recommends making water or unsweetened tea your default drink at restaurants and saving sugar-sweetened beverages for special occasions and celebrations.

Not only will it protect your family’s health but water will save you money, too, says Bowers.

Below we share our Q&A with Bowers on beverage choice for families:

Kara Shifler Bowers, RD, LDN

What role do beverages play in a healthy diet?
– Beverages contribute to a healthy diet by rehydrating our bodies. We lose liquids by sweating, urinating, and even just exhaling. Therefore, it is important to rehydrate by drinking plenty of water since sugary drinks can actually contribute to dehydration.

When eating out… what are healthy beverage options for kids? Adults?
– Water is always the best option because it naturally rehydrates us without adding sugars or saturated fats. Some restaurants are beginning to offer sparkling beverages which are also good if you are looking for a little bit of flavor without added sugars. If restaurants don’t offer sparkling water, you can ask for seltzer water with a lime or lemon wedge and mix it for a light and refreshing change. Low-fat milk is also a good option for kids. If you are looking for something besides water or milk, an unsweetened or lightly sweetened iced tea would be the next best thing.

What drinks are best/worst for kids? Adults?
– Soda has a lot of added sugars without a lot of nutrients. Additionally, milkshakes and cream-based beverages pack added sugars and saturated fats that we don’t need. Sweet coffee drinks can also add quite a bit of added sugar and saturated fat to our diet at the end of a meal. Order a regular coffee or unsweetened iced tea instead, so you can control how much sugar you consume.

Are there any tips for picking better-for-you beverage options?
– Look at the sugar content. If it is more than 20 grams (5 teaspoons) of sugar per serving, it is too much. Women should consume less than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) of added sugars per day, and men should consume less than 36 grams (9 teaspoons) of added sugars per day. A sweetened beverage can easily set us over the limit. Repeatedly consuming excess sugars puts at a higher risk for many diseases.

What is the recommendation for sugar in a drink?
– Ideally, what we drink should not contain added sugars. Drinks that only have naturally occurring sugars, like fruit juice, are okay in small amounts (4-6 oz. /day). However, preferably, we should eat the fruit so we can get the fiber as well. If we drink fruit juice instead of eating fruit, we don’t get the naturally-occurring fiber that helps us feel full and cleanses our system.

What is the recommendation for calories in a drink?
– The less, the better. Ideally, less than 30 kcals per serving would be best. If there are more calories than that, it is probably due to saturated fats or added sugars.

How can high calorie/high sugar drinks impact our health? Our child’s health?
– Consuming high calorie, high sugar drinks can add up. It is easy to consume excess energy that we don’t need by drinking sweet beverages. Consuming excess sugar makes us feel groggy, dehydrated, and can even contribute to inflammation and mood disorders such as depression.
– Consuming excessive sugar through drinks can increase our risk for obesity and therefore, heart disease and type two diabetes. Additionally, being overweight or obese puts us at a higher risk for breast, liver and colon cancer.
– Child Health
o Consuming excessively sweet beverages like soda as a child changes our perception of taste. Once children are used to consuming very sweet beverages, it can be much more difficult to persuade them to drink water.
o Save soda and sweet beverages for birthdays and celebrations, not regularly occurring meals.
– For easy alternatives at home, cut up leftover fruit and put it in a pitcher in the fridge. This will create a refreshing, light beverage that the whole family will enjoy.
– To stay fully hydrated and alert, commit to better beverage options. Commit to saying no to sweet beverages and saying yes to refreshing water.

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