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The Future of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

Mon, June 13, 2016

One of the most important milestones of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans was that, for the first time, they set a specific limit on the amount of added sugar Americans should consume each day. The guidelines have long instructed Americans to reduce their added sugar intake, but only now have they put an exact value on that guidance: no more than 10 percent of daily calories. That is approximately 50 grams of sugar, or 12 teaspoons. Many Americans currently consume about twice that amount, and the guidelines report that about half of their added sugar intake comes from sugar-sweetened beverages. Fifty grams happens to be the amount of sugar in just one 16-ounce bottle of Coke. These include not only sodas, though, but energy drinks, sports drinks, sweetened coffees and teas, flavored waters, fruit drinks, and alcoholic beverages. Furthermore, sugar consumed in liquid form has more severe negative health impacts—namely the spike in blood sugar, which can, over time, contribute to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. For these reasons and several others, consensus has pointed to replacing sugar-sweetened beverages with water and other healthier options in order to move the needle on Americans’ sugar consumption.

What does all of this mean for the future of soda and sugar-sweetened beverages in America? Which organizations in the foodservice industry are leading the way with regard to offering healthier beverages choices? Here, we hear from four of its visionary voices:

  • Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health, New York University, and author, Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning): Sodas, in public health jargon, are low-hanging fruit—easy targets of advocacy because of their high sugar content and zero nutrients. It’s great that health advocates have gotten the word out that sugar-sweetened beverages are nothing but liquid candy, best consumed in the smallest amounts possible. Sales of full-sugar sodas have been declining for at least 15 years, and it is no surprise that the soda industry considers concerns about obesity to be the number one threat to its profits. The word is out: If you are thirsty, drink water. I expect to see further efforts to discourage sugary drink consumption: tax initiatives, warning labels, removal of the drinks from vending machines, bans on hospital and workplace consumption, and all of the other efforts introduced by advocates in the past few years. The next challenge will be introducing some curbs on marketing sugar-sweetened beverages to kids. All of these actions have raised public consciousness about healthy beverage intake. Foodservice providers: Take notice!
  • Kristin Wilcox, vice president of government relations, International Bottled Water Association: Recent research shows that people are drinking less soda and more bottled water. The good news is that when they choose bottled water, they are picking the packaged beverage with the smallest environmental footprint: The results of a 2014 benchmarking study by the International Bottled Water Association show that the amount of water and energy used to produce bottled water products in North America is less than all other types of packaged beverages. It is also the healthiest beverage choice: Compared to sugary beverages, water naturally has no artificial flavors or sweeteners to interfere with the enjoyment of food or to potentially lead to higher risk of obesity, diabetes, or heart disease.
  • Harold Goldstein, executive director, California Center for Public Health Advocacy: “We are in the midst of a beverage revolution. As people learn that a 20-ounce bottle of soda has 16 teaspoons of sugar (imagine putting that in your morning coffee!), they are more and more likely to drink water instead sugar. What a healthy choice! People who drink water instead of soda, sports drinks, bottled teas, and other sugary beverages dramatically reduce their risk for diabetes and heart disease.
  • Cheryl Garner, executive director of dining, conference, and catering services, at University of California, Riverside: I truly believe that sugary carbonated beverages have peaked and today’s college students are realizing that they need to stay hydrated, and they want a flavor profile at times, but they don’t want large amounts of sugar."



In 2015, when University of California, Riverside was striving to follow the Menus of Change principle “reduce sugary beverages,” they decided to create some niche beverages not covered by their Pepsi contract. So they rolled out a line of spa waters and agua fresca for both their residential and retail restaurants. They noticed almost immediately that most students were lining up for ice from the Pepsi machine and then heading for the spa waters—bypassing the standard Pepsi beverages altogether.

UC Riverside uses a “text and tell” feedback system throughout its operation, and it frequently receives feedback about the spa waters they serve, enabling them to gauge the relative success of different flavors. For example, when they tried a variation made with dried banana chips, vanilla, cinnamon, and orange zest, the text and tell system lit up with the student comment: “The banana foster water is amazingly satisfying!” Inspired by what they were seeing from their diners, UCR Dining representatives attending the National Restaurant Association’s annual gathering spoke with Pepsi leadership about the need for less sugary beverages. They expressed a concern that the soda company was missing a huge shift in consumer beverage preferences. Because the Pepsi representatives there were not convinced, UCR Dining invited one of their vice presidents out to the campus to see firsthand: The vice president was asked to stand in front of the Pepsi machine of one of the residential dining halls for 20 minutes. During that time, student after student passed by the Pepsi machine and opted for a spa water. Not one student took a Pepsi beverage.

As a result of the visit, Pepsi agreed to supply the campus with new equipment, adding water and carbonated water valves that could be used as a standalone, or an added flavoring, many without sugar. They also brought in some less sugary beverages that had not been available in the market before. “The big goal is to influence Pepsi, to show them, ‘You are missing the boat. You’re not responding to the times,’” says Cheryl Garner, UCR’s executive director of dining, conference, and catering services. “Influencing them is what makes the biggest difference.”


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The Vegetable Casanovas

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