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22 April 2024

Revealed: How much sugar in your cola

By Sneha May Francis

Buying a glass of fizzy at the cinema, or glugging it while lunching/dining with your buddies is something that’s quite normal in this part of the world.

Many are addicted to these drinks, and end up consuming, at least one can per day.

In fact, they prefer aerated drinks over water or fresh juice, never quite realising the health risks these sugar-loaded cans/cups of fizz have on their body.

A recent report in the BBC drills home the point.

According to the report, a can of Coke contains 6tsp of sugar, while a small cup of fizz at the cinemas contain 23 sachets of sugar.

The large cup has a whopping 44 sachets of sugar.

These figures were not contested by the Europe Coke chief, who was present when the stats were revealed.

According to non-government organisation Ethical Consumer, there’s 8.25tsp of sugar in a Pepsi can (330ml), 7Up and Coca-Cola. Fanta and Sprite have 5.28tsp of sugar in one can.

This information has shocked many residents in the UAE, who claim they weren’t aware that they were actually consuming so much sugar at one time.

“I often buy an aerated drink when I am at the cinemas, and not once did I stop to check how much sugar it had in it.

“I knew that it had sugar, but the amount is what I was not aware of,” confesses Nitya Pillai, a resident.

This situation is true to the UAE, reveals Dr Rimmy Bedi, dietician at the UniCare health centre at Burjuman.

“People definitely don’t know how much sugar there is in these drinks. Otherwise who would want to consume fizzy drinks which have harmful effects on one’s body?”

In fact, she adds, that “majority of the people are unaware that these drinks not only contain high amounts of HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), but also are loaded with artificial colours, phosphoric acid and caffeine”.

While the sugar content is printed on the cans, it’s the cups at the cinemas that do not have it recorded.

This, Dr Bedi, claims is vital to good public health, helping people “make wiser choices”.

“Like the disclaimer on tobacco products, the disclaimers and the nutritional information must be printed on the cups (filled with the aerated drinks), otherwise how will the awareness spread?”

“Providing such information work as a tool, which promotes healthy eating and enhances public health.

“For example, pre-diabetic or diabetic can manage their health by selecting suitable food/drinks if such disclaimers and information are provided.”

However, Bobby Krishna, principal food studies and surveys officer at the Dubai Municipality insists that it's not just fizzy drinks that are to be blamed.

“While I agree that consumers have to be informed about calories, it should not be just centred on soft drinks.

“If you are eating a large portion of French fries and a burger or eating a full vegetarian meal in a restaurant with fried foods and sweets, you are getting the same amount of calories, if not more than a large cup of soda.

“What we need to tell people is to have a balanced meal with liberal servings of fruits and vegetables.

“An occasional soft drink is not a problem, but regular drinking of high volumes is. You also need to link that to physical activities.”

He further emphasises how California, which is an American state that mandates nutritional labeling in all restaurants, unfortunately, does not show that people have really modified the calorie intake.

His department, he adds, does not deal with nutrition-related issues but only labeling of pre-packaged foods.

“Foods that are dispensed do not have to be labeled just like the foods that are served in the restaurants or juice that’s dispensed in any of the food outlets.”

Admitting that sugar, in moderation, is an important part of a healthy diet, Dr Bedi adds, “Not all sugar is bad for the body, unrefined sugars found in most fruits and some vegetables, contain more minerals, antioxidants and vitamins than the refined version.”

However, “refined sugar” adds zero nutrients and empty calories.

“In my opinion, refined sugar is not a food. It is pure chemical extracted from the plant sources.

“It only gives us empty calories. I would recommend those who are overweight, diabetic, or have high cholesterol/blood pressure to avoid sugar as much as possible.”

She refers to the guidelines set by the American Heart Association, and recommends 6tsps of sugar (daily) for women, and 9 (tsps) of sugar for men.

It’s, however, when these limits are crossed that our body is harmed.

“When large amounts of sugar are taken in, the body quickly absorbs it and puts pressure on the pancreas to overproduce high amounts of insulin.

“This results in hypoglycaemia, wherein too much sugar is removed from the blood. This exhausts the liver, pancreas and adrenal glands as they have work hard to maintain sugar levels.

“And over a period of time, one can develop conditions like obesity, diabetes, impaired immune system, tooth decay, dental caries, weak bones and teeth.

“The more sugar you consume, the more insulin your pancreas will produce. High insulin levels are associated with an increased risk of some cancers, heart diseases and acne.”

She drills home the point that “consuming 350ml of carbonated drink daily can increase the chances of getting type2 diabetes by 20 per cent”.

Dependence on these drinks can develop into addiction, she adds, and over time will interfere with calcium absorption, as they contain phosphoric acid, leading to osteoporosis and cavities.

It’s a no-brainer then to ditch the fizz, for “plain, sparkling water, or water with lemon”.

Go on, make that change today.

[Image via Shutterstock]