Beverages to Spike Your Blood Sugar

Many people wrote to me about my recent post on soda and juice, so I thought it would be worth talking about the various kinds of drinks that are marketed to us right here in Ohio, the middle of America.  Remember my vignette about the diabetic character on TV?  Suddenly the character begins to act a little strangely, but she’s not too confused to murmur to her friend, “Help me check my blood sugar.  I think it’s too low.”   Sure enough. Now everyone on the set starts to run. What are they getting?  Something with loads of sugar, something she will absorb very quickly.  Like orange juice.  Or a fruit drink, or maybe a coke.

So…sweet beverages like juices and sodas (many with 12 teaspoons of sugar per can) are good choices if you want to spike your blood sugar.  None for me, thanks.

I decided to visit the “beverage center” at our local Walmart to see what’s in stock.  I especially wanted to look at the names of some of these beverages.  My hypothesis, borne out of experiences with margarine and breakfast cereals, is that the more manufactured the product type, the more creative the brand names.  

Here’s what I found in the beverage aisles:  Excluding carbonated drinks entirely, there was Sunny D, Powerade, Gatorade (11 flavors), Juicy Juice, Country Time, Tahitian Treat, Hawaiian Punch (many flavors), “Propel vitamin enhanced water beverage mix” (raspberry lemonade naturally and artificially flavored, and berry naturally flavored), and “Dasani Natural Lemon Flavored Water Beverage.”  V8 Splash (not the well known V8 tomato juice) was available in mango peach, fruit medley, berry blend, and tropical blend, which also has a “diet” version.

Caffeinated or coffee-flavored beverages included Red Bull energy drink (original and sugar free), Monster (regular, mega and lo-carb), Starbucks Frappucino coffee drink in 3 flavors (coffee, mocha, vanilla), and Starbucks doubleshot espresso & cream premium coffee drink (regular and light).

Country Time Lemonade Drink Mix gets consumed in quantity around these parts, so I thought I’d check it out online. According to the official website, Country Time’s name is “reminiscent of a time when it was easier to get good old-fashioned lemonade.”  The powdered mix was first marketed in 1975 by a TV character named “Grandpa.”  Cans and bottles hit the market in 1982.  Then came Pink Lemonade (1995), Iced Tea with Lemon (2003), Strawberry Lemonade (2004), and Country Time Light Lemonade (2005).  The Strawberry Lemonade is “the perfect blend of two favorite flavors:  sweet, sun-ripened strawberries and the classic taste of lemonade.”  Or, you could buy strawberries and lemons, and mix them with sugar and water.

In addition to V8 and V8Splash, V8 makes a fruit juice product called “V8 Vfusion.”  No matter which V8 Vfusion you buy, the first ingredient is sweet potato juice.  The flavors at Walmart included acai-mixed berry, strawberry-banana, pomegranate-blueberry, goji-raspberry,and passionfruit-tangerine.  The acai was listed 6th, the strawberry 7th, and the banana 8th in the list of ingredients.  You’re not really eating tangerines, passionfruit or berries; you’re just eating the names.  You’re not even eating sweet potatoes.  And you’re paying a price that is much higher than the one marked on the bottle.

Among the powdered mixes, Crystal Light took the cake.  The juxtaposition of the words “natural,” “flavor,” and “artificial” was curious.  I didn’t even know about Crystal Light live active (with 3g of fiber), Crystal Light energy, Crystal Light focus, or Crystal Light sunrise prior to my Walmart excursion. Wouldn’t it be better just to get some sleep and exercise?

I also found Crystal Light natural lemonade flavor, natural pink lemonade flavor, peach artificial flavor, raspberry lemonade flavor, white grape artificial flavor, crystal light red tea, crystal light white tea and, believe it or not, “crystal light green tea natural honeylemon flavor with other natural flavor.” You can’t get a whole lot more creative than that.  The word “natural,” which appears twice, describes not the product itself, but its flavor.  It surely took a lot of work to figure out how to make those eleven words sound so natural.

So what else is there to drink?  If you don’t care for a glass of cool water, right from the tap, or a glass of milk, or unsweetened iced tea, then try this recipe:  Dissolve ¼ c. sugar with ¼ c. water in a saucepan over low heat.  Set aside.  Mix 2 cups of water and 1 + 1/2 c. lemon juice (fresh squeezed if you’d like) together in a large pitcher filled halfway with ice while you allow the syrup to cool.  Stir the syrup into the contents of the pitcher. Add lemon slices, strawberry slices or mint leaves, slightly bruised, to garnish.  Serves 4-6.  To your good health!

Juice & Soda Increase Your Risk of Diabetes & Obesity


This week I would like to talk about the third of my four(4) recommendations for preventing diabetes and obesity:  Recommendation #3 is to avoid juice, soda/pop, and other sweetened drinks.  Why?

Imagine that you’re watching a movie, and the main character is diabetic.  We’ll call him Joe.  Suddenly, Joe begins to sweat.  He drops into a chair, and begins to slur his words.  His blood sugars are too low.  What does everyone run to get him to drink?  Something sweet, to raise his blood sugar levels quickly. Jill returns with a cup of orange juice.  In just a minute, Joe feels fine again.

So juice and soda are good choices if you need to raise your sugars rapidly.  Do you want to raise your blood sugar rapidly?  Not usually.  Not unless you want to waste your insulin and increase your chances of becoming diabetic.  When I was a child, my doctor used to keep orange juice in the office to treat patients with low blood sugar.  In other words, juice and sodas are medicine, not food.

Think of soda as liquid candy.  When it was first marketed, it came in small, 6-8 oz. containers.  People drank it occasionally.  It was a treat.  That is no longer the case.  More than a few of my patients have admitted to drinking 2 or more liters of soda every day.  Sweet soda contains the equivalent of 12 teaspoons of sugar per can.  And that’s not all.  Most soda these days is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.  I recommend that you drink it rarely, on special occasions, or never.  Certainly not every day.

Some people may be wondering about diet soda, Crystal Light, and the like, so here are my thoughts:  Barring any contraindications to artificial sweeteners, I would recommend diet soda over sweetened soda.  But that doesn’t mean I think they are good for you.  I still believe that artificial sweeteners confuse your insulin-release system.  So I would not recommend more than 8-10 oz. a day in any case.  That’s less than a can a day.

You may find it more difficult to understand why juice is a bad choice, especially since it is made from fruit, which you know is good for you.  Simply put, it delivers large amounts of sugar straight into the bloodstream. That’s what causes your blood sugar levels to rise so fast, and that is exactly why you must be wary.  Whenever you absorb sugar rapidly, you need to release a load of insulin to escort that sugar into your cells.  So if you are drinking juice every day, you are using, and that means wasting, a lot of insulin.

You will find that decreasing your intake of juice and soda  makes a gigantic difference in your energy and waistline.  And the more you stop drinking, the more true this is.  If you drink a lot of juice or soda, you get a significant percentage of your daily fuel requirement (calories) from sugar.  If you stop feeding your appetite with such large amounts of sugar, you will at first feel hungrier.  In fact, however, you will not actually be hungrier.  What you will be feeling is the lack of those lost sugar calories.  You are going to replace them with calories of real food.  Therefore, plan to eat bigger meals, and add a snack or two, until you figure out how much more food you really need.  Some of that hunger will decrease in a few days once your insulin levels drop to a more normal level, but not all of it.  You just need to be prepared.

What if you really, really love orange juice?  If you look forward to drinking orange juice more than you care to admit, buy a small plastic orange juicer, the kind with the fat cone in the middle that sticks up straight about 4 inches.  Then, on special days, like maybe Sundays or holidays, slice open a few oranges and make yourself a cup of homemade juice.  Kids especially love this project.  Remember to eat the pulp that’s left in the juicer.  That’s where most of the fiber is, and fiber slows down your absorption of the sugar in the fruit juice.  Enjoy!

Why is this better?  First, it adds up to 5 oz. of juice a week instead of 70 oz. (10 oz. x 7 days/week).  That’s 93% less juice every week!  This is a good example of not having to change our food choices completely.  A few small changes here and there really do up to a huge difference, 93% in this case.  Even if you drank homemade orange juice every single day, you would still decrease your juice intake by a whopping 50%.  Secondly, it tastes incredibly delicious, a lot better than even the best store-bought orange juice.  Is there really any comparison?

What else should we be drinking?  Water or unsweetened tea, with a slice of lemon or fruit if you’d like.  Or milk.  Like Great-Great-Grandma Sadie.  Let’s get real, and let’s eat real food.