By Laura Pawlak, Ph.D., R.D. (emerita)
Love sugar? This innate desire for sweets can be traced to an ancient part of the brain — the reward circuit. The sweet, sensory experience is recorded as a rewarding one as endorphin molecules (natural opioids) bathe the brain. A long-lasting memory of the tasty experience is stored deep inside the brain. There is purpose to the “feel good” experience resulting from sweetness. You will search for, and continue to consume, the ideal fuel for your mind — the simple carbohydrates in sugar.
Nature offers fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods to satiate the need for carbohydrate — along with fiber and a wide variety of nutrients in these foods. But nature is no competition for the added sugar in today’s super-sweet desserts, snacks, packaged foods, and beverages. Manufacturers add some form of sugar to 74 percent of their products.
Liquid sugar, such as found in sodas, energy drinks, and sport beverages, is the leading single source of added sugar in the American diet. The rapidly absorbed sweetened beverage is linked to sugar addiction, obesity, Type 2 diabetes (often called adult-onset diabetes), and other diseases. Worldwide education regarding the disease risks linked to the consumption of sugary drinks has resulted in the decline of soda sales. As summer approaches, manufacturers offer new products to quench your thirst — products called plant waters.
These beverages are made from extracts of fruits, vegetables, grains, grasses, and other plant parts, with fewer calories than sugary beverages or no calories at all. Manufacturers of plant waters promote their products with a variety of unsubstantiated health claims.
For example: Artichoke Water, a sugar-free, zero-calorie beverage, is claimed to be healthy because artichokes have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Where’s the artichoke in this water?
Made with concentrated bamboo-leaf extract, Bamboo Water is stated to contain the powerful benefits of bamboo. Is bamboo really a food source for humans?
Other beverages produced from plant sources, such as the olive, banana, cactus, barley, and maple sap are also available — all with dubious health claims and varying amounts of sugar.
Here’s a sound approach to quenching your thirst this summer. Drink these plant waters if you like them and if you don’t mind their cost. They lack the nutrients and fiber obtained by eating whole-plant foods, and they won’t prevent disease. The best choice is nature’s offering: A healthy, refreshing glass of water and some juicy, fresh fruit. Enjoy the summer!
Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita. She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.” On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.