Why sugar could make non-drinkers’ lives a little bit sweeter

If a pint of coke helps you kick the booze, in the long term, it is a friend

If a pint of coke helps you kick the booze, in the long term, it is a friend

We’ve all read the horror stories about sugar and its effects on the body; they are splashed across the headlines almost daily. However, when the only non-alcoholic drinks available in pubs and bars are often of the tooth-achingly sweet variety, where else are non-drinkers able to turn? As it turns out, soft drinks are a better short term replacement to alcohol than you might think.

Alcohol is worse than sugar. Full stop.

Alcohol is the ultimate baddie – although often low in sugar itself (unless it’s a cider, an alcopop or uses a sugary mixer), it disturbs your blood sugar levels in a similar way. Drinkaware explains, “when a person drinks alcohol, the body reacts to it as a toxin, and channels all energy into expelling it. This means that other processes are interrupted – including the production of glucose and the hormones needed to regulate it. This is most noticeable in heavy drinkers, as over time drinking too much alcohol decreases the effectiveness of insulin, which leads to high blood sugar levels”. So, as you can imagine, a gin and tonic packs a doubly harmful punch.

The sugar in alcoholic drinks hides calories and fat

The bouncy sugar level that alcohol provides also causes people to consume more calories, fats and sugary substances. That’s why that greasy kebab on the way home is so tempting, followed by that hangover can of Fanta the next morning. In a vicious cycle, the sugar-low from alcohol will tire you out, making you less likely to exercise and prevent you from absorbing essential vitamins from that awesome kale salad you had. On top of that, alcohol has lots of other long term health impacts, such as increasing blood pressure, and potentially diabetes and liver disease.

Should you replace a beer with a coke?

Yes. It is an effective, widely available substitute for alcohol. It helps you manage a social situation and facilitates longer term behavioural changes. The likelihood is, you will drink less coke than you would beer anyway. In terms of quantity, if you can match your mates pint for pint in the pub with a sugary drink, you are made of stern stuff. Club Soda members report being mostly unable to get through more than a pint of soft drink when out, and often mix and match with lower sugar alternatives such as alcohol-free beer, tea or coffee. As a result, swapping a beer for a pint of coke in the pub may be an increase in sugar intake in the short term, but as part of a longer term goal of quitting or reducing alcohol intake, it is a friend.

The facts

Although it is not the healthiest thing to drink, if a pint of coke in the pub helps you kick the booze, then in the long term it will help you improve your diet and increase your exercise levels. Professor Peter Clifton, head of nutritional interventions at Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute says that “sugar is just another form of over-consumed calories – easily available and very palatable but no more metabolically deadly than starch or fat calories and certainly not equivalent to alcohol.” The fact is, kicking the alcohol now is the most urgent thing. Do that, and you will then have the power to improve your diet and exercise regimes.

What to do

Use the tools available to you to change your relationship with a widely available, psychologically addictive and dangerous substance. If you have the opportunity, say no to that pint and grab a lemonade instead. After all, the most important thing is using and shaping the tools available to make the choices that are right for you.

One Response to “Why sugar could make non-drinkers’ lives a little bit sweeter

  • Hi Emma, you’ve raised some interesting talking points. Personally, I’m really surprised that pubs are failing to provide more low sugar soft drink options. As you say, sugar’s getting a bad rap in the press right now; yet where are the low sugar alternatives for the health conscious?