What are the Most Important Food Safety and Nutrition Concerns Regarding Various Beverages?

The center aisles of a supermarket hold an enormous variety of beverages: juices, sodas, sports drinks, waters, and specialty drinks. Though those beverages are safe, most are far from healthy.

Sugary drinks—carbonated soft drinks, energy drinks, sweetened teas, and fruit drinks and ades—are the largest single source of calories in the American diet, and they contribute almost half of all calories consumed from added sugars. A typical 12-ounce bottle of regular soda delivers upwards of nine teaspoons of sugar, in addition to water, an acid component, a few colorings, flavorings, and other additives.

Diet drinks replace sugar with artificial or natural non-caloric sweeteners; aspartame, acesulfame-potassium, saccharin, and possibly sucralose pose safety questions of their own.

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Numerous studies have demonstrated that sugary drinks have been a major contributor to the obesity epidemic. In fact, sugary drinks are the only food or drink for which a direct relationship with weight gain and obesity has been confirmed.

Those nutrient-free sugar bombs contribute about 15 percent of the calories our teenagers take in per day, with many people consuming much more. Since the mid-1990s, teens have been consuming more calories from soda than from milk. Research suggests that for each additional soda per day, a child’s risk of becoming obese increases some 60 percent.

The fruit juices in the center aisles are safe because they are all pasteurized (heated to kill the bacteria and then cooled down rapidly). If you are buying juice in the refrigerated section of the store (or at a roadside stand or farmers market), check to be sure it’s pasteurized.

Unpasteurized juices may be risky because juice is sometimes made from fruit that has fallen from trees, meaning that the fruit might have come into contact with farm animals, wild animals, or their leavings. If the fruit is contaminated, those bacteria can persist and multiply unless the juice is pasteurized. Even autumn favorites like apple cider should be pasteurized for safety. You shouldn’t taste much of a difference, and even if you have a discerning palate, the difference in flavor isn’t worth the risk.

One other juice concern is that disturbing levels of arsenic (the same carcinogen found in rice) may be present in apple juice. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has responded by setting an “action limit” (the amount of the substance that is allowed) in apple juice and will be testing juices periodically to make sure producers are complying.

In the meantime, it’s young kids who are most at risk here, since they drink more juice per pound of body weight than adults and are still developing neurological systems that might be particularly susceptible to arsenic. If you’re shopping for kids, try to minimize the juice in favor of water. This is also a solid nutritional choice for limiting natural or added sugars for young children, as well as for everyone else.

Other relevant links:

• Why is pasteurization important? See: Here are Important Food Safety Tips You Should Know about Dairy Products

• What you need to know about expiration dates. See: Food Safety: What do Expiration Dates Really Mean?

• Which are safer—organic or conventional foods? See: Food Safety: Organic vs. Conventional Foods

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