Sugary drinks have become so accepted in South African culture that many people are drinking far too many of them.
This is according to Dr Jacques Snyman, director of product development at Agility Global Health Systems for Africa, who was responding to the mooted tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.
Read: Will a sugar tax trim the fat off South Africans?
The proposed tax, to be introduced from 1 April 2017, will be levied on sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks, fruit juices, sports/energy drinks, and vitamin waters, sweetened ice tea, lemonade, cordials and squashes.
“We are often told that adults should drink around two litres of water per day to stay adequately hydrated and help cleanse the body of impurities,” said Dr Snyman.
He pointed out that many people erroneously assume that flavoured waters have much the same health benefits as drinking still, sparkling or ordinary tap water.
“Flavoured water, however, is no substitute for pure water as it usually contains flavouring chemicals and plenty of sugar. In short, ‘flavoured water’ is usually no more than a clever marketing trick to promote fizzy drinks, which have had bad press in recent years as they have been linked to obesity,” said Dr Synman.
Quiz: Am I eating too much sugar?
In recent years, flavoured waters and mass produced iced teas have grown considerably in popularity in the South African market. While these may initially appear to be healthier alternatives to sugar-laden fizzy drinks, the nutritional information of such products often tell another story.
Dr Synman added that sugar-free fizzy drinks also have their drawbacks, with some studies suggesting that they might, perversely, stimulate cravings for calorie-rich foods.
Packed with sugars
Energy drinks should also be consumed only in moderation, with an understanding of the calories and caffeine they contain.
“As well as being addictive, the caffeine in energy drinks can leave you feeling shaky and anxious. Also, after the ‘rush’ that caffeine and sugar induce, you will often experience a corresponding ‘crash’, characterised by feelings of lethargy,” he cautioned.
Pure fruit juices may sound like a healthy alternative to the above, but even these are packed with sugars.
Read: Sugar tax gets sweet support in News24 poll
“The difference between eating whole fruit and drinking fruit juice is that fruit juice is far more concentrated. You might be drinking the calories of several servings of fruit without realising it,” said Dr Snyman adding that the fibre in whole fruit, which is generally absent in fruit juice, also helps the body to absorb fruit sugar more gradually.
Dr Snyman says there are healthier alternatives to these drinks that are just as delicious and satisfying as their calorie-laden counterparts.
Plain cold water can be enhanced with slices of citrus fruit, cucumber or herbs, such as mint or lemon verbena. Lemon juice in water, whether hot or cold, is refreshing and mildly energising. When you are in need of a more substantial energiser, try unsweetened green tea. Instead of fruit juice, try making your own smoothies by blending whole fruit with ice and unsweetened yogurt.
“I believe it is important for the general public to be more aware of what they are drinking and make informed decisions based on this information," noted Dr Snyman.
"A little of what you fancy does you good, they say, but many South Africans are drinking these daily without realising the potential health consequences."
He said it is hoped that the introduction of a sugary drink tax would serve as a reminder that these should only be enjoyed occasionally.
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