If like many Americans you enjoy the sweet taste of soda, even as an occasional treat, you may have some new—and perhaps even more appealing—options to choose from come summer. According to a tweet by Beverage Digest, an industry trade publication, Pepsi has plans to add colas “made with real sugar” to its arsenal. [Tweet this news!]
Although specific details about these new beverages have yet to surface, it’s likely that the recent downward spiral in soda sales has pushed Pepsi to create the new line, which will include regular, vanilla, and wild cherry flavors. According to Beverage Digest, U.S. sales of carbonated soft drinks have fallen for nine years straight, last year reaching the lowest level since 1995.
The news from the soft drink company has some consumers wondering if this soda made with “real sugar” instead of the much-maligned high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) will be any healthier for them.
When it comes to calories, there’s little difference between HFCS and table sugar (sucrose): A tablespoon of HFCS provides 53 calories, while the same amount of sugar contains 64 calories.
There’s also little chemical difference between the two sweeteners. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, HFCS is produced from corn syrup, which is typically 100-percent glucose. The syrup is processed to increase fructose content and is then mixed with glucose. Typically HFCS in beverages can contain up to 55 percent fructose with the remaining percentage from sucrose. Similarly, sucrose is made of equal parts fructose and glucose.
Based on a review of several studies, including four short-term randomized controlled trials that looked at the effects of HFCS compared with other nutritive sweeteners, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that although long-term data are needed, “there’s little evidence that HFCS differs uniquely from table sugar and other nutritive sweeteners in metabolic effects (i.e. circulating glucose, insulin, postprandial triglycerides, leptin, and ghrelin), subjective effects (i.e. hunger, satiety, and energy intake at subsequent meals) and adverse effects such as risk of weight gain.” [Tweet this fact!]
Although the Academy says that consumers can safely enjoy HFCS, table sugar, and other sweeteners (including artificial ones) in the context of an eating plan based on current dietary guidelines, it warns against going overboard with added sugars since doing so is linked with higher caloric intake and lower diet quality, and this can increase your risk of obesity, prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
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As it is, soda, energy drinks, and sport drinks combined comprise 36 percent of added sugar intake in the American diet. And while all added sugar amounts to about 16 percent of total daily calories, current dietary guidelines suggest no more than 5 to 15 percent of total daily calories from both added sugars and solid fats.
In the end, sugar is sugar is sugar. We all need to eat (and drink) less of it, though this is easier said than done since it’s found in so many foods and beverages we typically consume. Drinking soda infused with HFCS or table sugar makes it far too easy to over-consume sugar—and calories—since liquids are simply not as filling as solid foods. Having too much added sugar also leaves less room in your diet for nutrient-rich foods and beverages.
I say to pick your poison. If you want to spend your sugar calories on soda, do it. But pay less attention to the type of sugar found in your soda (or other treat) of choice, and more to the portion you consume and the frequency with which you consume it. And if you can live without soda and instead want to meet your added sugar quota with a few cookies or some nutrient-rich foods like lowfat chocolate milk, flavored yogurt, or a high-fiber, whole-grain breakfast cereal, even better!
What do you think? Would you try soda "made with real sugar?" Tell us in the comments below or tweet us @Shape_Magazine.
Elisa Zied, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., is a nationally recognized and award-winning registered dietitian. Author of the new book Younger Next Week (Harlequin Nonfiction, 2014), and three other consumer titles, Zied has garnered millions of media impression as a featured expert on Good Morning America and the Today Show, and in USA Today and dozens of other national print and online publications. She's an advisor and blogger for Parents.com. Follow her @elisazied and on Facebook.