The Daily Fix, Part Two

I became hooked on caffeine in junior high. One summer, I realized that without a morning glass of tea, I would have a headache by mid-morning. Yesterday, I spoke about our nation’s obsession with caffeinated and sweetened beverages. Why are young people turning ever more predictably to these coffee-drinks? Is it even something we need to be concerned about?

Lets start with the most obvious benefit of coffee: caffeine. As we all know, caffeine acts as a stimulant, improving concentration and increasing alertness.  Coffee’s origins date back as far as the ninth century, but it wasn’t until the 1800s that caffeine, itself, was isolated and identified as the magic component giving coffee its stimulating effects.   Unfortunately, tolerance to caffeine can develop rather quickly. And too much of a good thing can mean tremors, restlessness, anxiety or insomnia. Trying to quit caffeine? You might find yourself in withdrawl, with headaches, fatigue, difficulty concentrating or even depressed mood. In general, though, there is no good data to say that caffeine in moderation is really “bad” for you.

Which leads us to the second component of most of these caffeinated drinks: sugar. Like soda and juice, the sugar content in one beverage can be astounding. In my favorite go-to drink, a medium nonfat vanilla latte, I discovered there are 35 grams of sugar – that’s about 8 teaspoons! The news is worse for my innocent milk tea. In one serving there are 52 grams of sugar, totaling 13 teaspoons. Now what about one of the large frozen mocha-flavored drinks topped with whipped cream and chocolate flavored drizzle – the ones similar to what I witnessed those school-aged children drinking?  Well folks, 87 grams. That’s about 22 teaspoons of straight sugar!

With numbers like these you begin to see why these drinks might not be such a good idea after all. Sugar not only leads to tooth decay, as our mothers warned us. Sugar also leads to plaque build up in arteries and insulin resistance, putting us at risk for heart disease and diabetes.  In addition to juice and soda, these drinks need more recognition as being active players in our nation’s slide into obesity.

Do you have a rule about coffee or tea drinks in your house? What kinds of healthy options can we start offering our young teens? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments! Plus, put your favorite drink to the test. To give nutrition facts more meaning, divide the grams of sugar on the nutrition label by 4 in order to get the number of teaspoons of sugar in one serving. You might be surprised.

Published on: June 06, 2012
About the Author
Photo of Audrey Hall MD

Dr. Audrey Hall is in her final year of pediatric residency training at Stanford University. Following completion of training, she plans to practice as a general pediatrician.

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