Some Refreshing News about America’s Soda Habit

Here’s some refreshing news about Americans and soda: We’re finally drinking less of the stuff.

soda can topTen years ago, on any given day, over 61% of adults and nearly 80% of kids drank such beverages, none of which are particularly friendly to teeth (not to mention the rest of you).

According to new research in the journal Obesity, in 2014, just 50% of adults and 60.7% of children drank them.

Of course, that still leaves a lot of us drinking a lot of sugar. Still, such a significant reduction is an important step forward.

The study monitored data from 18,600 children and over 27,652 adults across 10 years of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

This overall decline in both beverage and [sugar-sweetened beverage] consumption is consistent with previous literature, suggesting a recent “turning point” toward lower energy intake in the US diet, potentially attributable to widespread discussion and media coverage of the role of certain foods (e.g., SSBs) in promoting obesity, changes to food allowances within the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, improvements to school feeding programs, and product reformulations by food manufacturers and retailers.

On the downside, consumption rates remain highest among black, Mexican American, and non-Mexican Hispanic teens – all groups at high risk of obesity and diabetes.

On the upside, the study also found that fruit juice consumption is down, as well. As we’ve noted before, fruit juice is essentially concentrated sugar and a major cause of tooth decay among young children in particular.

boy getting drink of waterWhat kids are drinking more of is what we all should be drinking more of: water.

Among children, the prevalence of 100% juice consumption declined significantly among 12- to 19-year-olds, water increased significantly across all age groups, and no significant changes were seen for coffee and tea, milk, or diet beverage consumption for any age group.

And this may not be a short term trend. Earlier this year, a major trade publication noted that soda sales have been declining for twelve years and counting.

The per capita consumption of soda drinks, including energy drinks, fell to about 642 8-ounce servings last year, the lowest level since 1985, when the Beverage Digest began tracking consumption trends….

Despite the fact that two of the biggest of the soda companies suspiciously fund 96 US health groups – including the American Diabetes Association and the National Institutes of Health – more people are seeing this as little more than an attempt to influence public health policy and maintain profits. Consumer education has been a big help, as have soda taxes, with the money going to fund various health programs.

In 2015, Berkeley, California introduced a soda tax after years of battling the industry. They’ve now seen a drop in sales by nearly 10% – and a spike in water sales, as well.

One year following implementation of the nation’s first large SSB tax, prices of SSBs increased in many, but not all, settings, SSB sales declined, and sales of untaxed beverages (especially water) and overall study beverages rose in Berkeley; overall consumer spending per transaction in the stores studied did not rise. Price increases for SSBs in two distinct data sources, their timing, and the patterns of change in taxed and untaxed beverage sales suggest that the observed changes may be attributable to the tax.

That said, water doesn’t always satisfy the urge for a sweet soft drink, especially if you’re going through a detox by gradually reducing your sugar intake. Here are some alternatives to consider:

  • Drink tea – hot or cold. Many spice teas have an inherent sweetness, as do some herb teas such as ginger lemon.
  • Splash a bit of lemon or lime into your water.
  • Infuse your own water with fruit, herbs, or vegetables. Here are a few ideas.
  • Make a veg-centric smoothie. Here are some tips for making sure yours is balanced and not a sugar-bomb.
  • Make your own fresh juice with fresh vegetables and fruit. Again, balance is key. Think green.

Bottom image by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Ditch the Juice, Go for the Whole Fruit

oranges and juiceHow much juice should you let your kids drink? If they’re younger than one, zero, zilch, nada.

That’s according to new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics. And that’s the best part of the news.

Fruit juice offers no nutritional benefit to children under age 1 and should not be included in their diet.

But that implies some nutritional benefit to kids over a year old. And that’s a sketchy claim at best. As nutritional consultant Dr. Mike Roussell has put it,

There aren’t any benefits to drinking fruit juice over eating whole fruits. In fact, eating whole fruit is a better choice. In regards to vegetables, the only benefit to vegetables juices is that it might enhance your consumption of vegetables; but you’ll miss out on some key health benefits by juicing.

As Dr. Royal Lee pointed out years ago, when you eat whole fruit, you get the total nutritional package: vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytonutrients. When you juice, these get delivered with concentrated sugar – sometimes even more sugar than you’d get in a can of soda pop.

Really.

And that’s not good at any age. As one 2016 review put it, while there are still research gaps to be bridged by science,

Sufficient evidence links a high intake of sugar to dental caries and obesity, and high intakes of sugar-sweetened beverages in particular to increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Other research has confirmed that, like diet soda, fruit juice is not apt to be a “healthy alternative…to sugar sweetened beverages for the prevention of type 2 diabetes.”

“Fruit juice,” notes the AAP, “offers no nutritional benefits over whole fruit for infants and children and has no essential role in healthy, balanced diets of children.”

Whole fruit, on the other hand, has such a role. Many fruits also tend to be high in vitamin C, which is essential for healthy gums. Crunchy fruit such as apples also help stimulate saliva flow that helps protect the teeth.

And what does juice do? Bathes the teeth in sugar and acids, destroying tooth enamel and making the teeth more vulnerable to decay.

Ditch the juice. Go for the fruit.

The Mouth-Body Connection: Obesity and Gum Disease

obese man in waiting areaThe numbers are not encouraging.

According to the latest numbers from Gallup and Healthways, the US obesity rate has climbed once again, nearing 28%. That’s more than one in four of us. Not just overweight but obese. Here in Texas, the rate is even higher: 30%.

Meanwhile, cancer specialists speaking at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago cautioned that obesity may overtake smoking as the leading cause of cancer within the decade. According to Harvard oncology specialist Jennifer Ligibel, the relationship between the two conditions is “clear.”

“It’s the case with breast cancer, a prostate cancer, cancer of the colon and all the gynaecological cancers,” she said. She highlighted research showing that obesity increased the risk of womb cancer sixfold.

Experts said obesity was driving cancer because it results in hormones imbalances that can fuel tumour growth.

Cancer and obesity are also both inflammatory conditions – like periodontal disease, which has also been linked to both.

The obesity link, in particular, has been highlighted by recent studies, such as the new research review just published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology. The studies that met the authors’ criteria included more than 42,000 subjects and all together showed that those

who became overweight and obese presented higher risk to develop new cases of periodontitis…compared with counterparts who stayed in normal weight.

A review in the Journal of Periodontology similarly found “that overweight, obesity, weight gain, and increased waist circumference may be risk factors for development of periodontitis or worsening of periodontal measures.”

Research published earlier this year in the same journal found more pronounced markers of periodontitis (advanced gum disease) among those who were overweight and less physically fit.

So are exercise and more healthful eating the ticket? Perhaps not entirely. For one of the other findings in the Gallup/Healthways report was that social and economic factors may be fueling the rise in obesity rates, as well. Environmental factors also play a role. For instance, a new study in Environmental Health Perspectives showed how BPA may be contributing to the obesity crisis, as well:

The study is the first to find that people’s bodies metabolize bisphenol-A (BPA) — a chemical found in most people and used in polycarbonate plastic, food cans and paper receipts — into something that impacts our cells and may make us fat.

The research, from Health Canada, challenges an untested assumption that our liver metabolizes BPA into a form that doesn’t impact our health.

“This shows we can’t just say things like ‘because it’s a metabolite, it means it’s not active’,” said Laura Vandenberg, an assistant professor of environmental health at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who was not involved in the study. “You have to do a study.”

Like most modern chronic health problems, obesity is multifactoral. But eating better and getting more active do make a great start. Ramped up oral hygiene and nutritional therapy can offer big help, as well, in putting the brakes on chronic inflammation.

Image by Tony Alter

Obesity & Oral Disease: A Weighty Connection

Though you often hear people talk about “science” as kind of a single, solid body of fact, it’s actually a process and a way of understanding the world. Ideas are tested and retested. Evidence builds up – sometimes in support of a hypothesis, sometimes against – but until it reaches critical mass on one side or another, the mixed results of scientific research can sometimes seem confusing.

Consider a trio of studies published over the past several months on the long-observed relationship between oral health and obesity.

One study, published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Dental Practice, found that obese children tended to have more cavities, though results varied according to socio-economic status. Parents’ income levels seemed to predict preventive oral health practices such as home hygiene and regular dental visits.

Another study – this, in PLoS ONE – came to a contrary conclusion, finding that Kuwaiti children who were obese actually had fewer cavities than their slender peers. No explanation was given for this surprising result.

The finding of an inverse obesity-dental decay relationship contradicts the obesity-sugar and the obesity-dental decay relationship hypotheses. Sugar is well recognized as necessary and sufficient for dental decay. Sugar is also hypothesized to be a leading co-factor in obesity. If the later hypothesis is true, one would expect dental decay to increase with obesity. This was not found. The reasons for this inverse relationship are not currently clear.

Then there was the research published in the European Archives of Paediatric Dentistry. This study found that while obese children don’t necessarily have a higher risk of tooth decay, they do seem to have a higher risk of dental erosion.

5411920162_852d19475c_bOf course, as enamel is lost and dentin is exposed, the affected teeth become much more vulnerable to decay.

Overall, though, the research generally supports some connection between obesity and caries (that’s the dentist’s term for cavities). And if you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. After all, the mouth is where eating begins, and the foods most prone to add to your fat stores – sugary, starchy, hyper-processed carbs – are the exact same foods that can lead to dental problems.

Some, of course, are more damaging than others. Soda may be one of the worst offenders, though fruit juice is not so much better. A single 12 ounce serving of pop can contain more than 50 grams of the stuff; juice-based drinks fall into the same range. (Tropicana Farmstand, for instance, contains just a half teaspoon less than a regular Coke.)

This sugar is the preferred fuel of the microbes that colonize into the tooth-coating biofilms we call “plaque.” The metabolic waste they produce is highly acidic, and that’s what ultimately damages teeth, making them vulnerable decay.

Add to that the phosphoric acid found in soda, and you get a real recipe for disaster.

But it’s not just soda that’s the problem. All highly processed carbs and sugars tend to stick to the teeth, especially along the gum line, feeding those oral pathogens, helping them to thrive.

These are also the kinds of foods that fuel chronic inflammation – a key player in both obesity and gum disease. Not only are they themselves triggering but they also often displace healthier foods from the diet, such as vegetables, whole grains, unprocessed meats and healthy fats such as omega 3s. In light of this, it’s not especially surprising that research has found obesity to be a predictor of periodontal disease.

That said, being obese doesn’t necessarily doom you to oral health problems – or vice versa. But the presence of both together does suggest that the reason may be shared triggers such as diet.

Even though there may not be a causal connection, healthy choices can impact both. This doesn’t mean that one solution exits, but changing your diet and exercising more are fantastic steps towards better oral, heart, and overall health.

For starters, instead of eating sugars, refined flours, and starches, fill your diet with:

  • Vegetables
  • Fresh fruits (not canned)
  • Natural fats from foods like like nuts, avocados, fish, and olive oil
  • Unprocessed meats (found in the meat aisle, not the deli)
  • Whole grains

Finally, remember to clean your teeth and gums regularly. No matter what you eat, your teeth need brushing at least twice a day and flossing once a day.

Image by Jacob Deatherage, via Flickr