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Think Your Drink

July 8th, 2011 - By Lari Robling

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It’s summer… we’re thirsty and it’s easy to down a sweet beverage without much thought. How much sugar is really in that drink? At Penn State Extension’s Nutrition Links program, participants discover the exact quantity and how to make healthier choices.


Photos by Matt Campbell

-Island Blast Smoothie »

On a hot afternoon with the air conditioning blasting, residents of Spring Garden Apartments gather in the community room. The Education Advisor for Penn State Extension’s Nutrition Links program, Simran James, is setting out empty soda bottles and fast food beverage containers. Her purpose? Show what effect sugary drinks can have and some alternatives. First, she asks the group to define what is considered to be a soft drink, “Ice tea, okay. – Gatorade. – Yeah, actually Gatorade. Alright, so a soft drink is soda, we have lemonade, we have sweet tea, sports drinks, fruit drinks and any beverage sweetened with sugar or sugar substitute. There’s over 450 varieties on the market so it is easy to get confused as to what is good for you and not good for you. ”

Jo Ellen Rollins dishes out how much sugar is in one bottle of Coca-Cola.

Everyone knows there’s too much sugar in soda, but to demonstrate just exactly how much James has the group measure out the number of teaspoons in a 20-ounce bottle. “One, two, three, – sixteen, seventeen, you mean you eating all of this! In that one little bottle, look ya’ll,” says Jo Ellen Rollins.

To further drive home the point, James reveals another shocker: drink two cans of soda a day and the added calories will yield a 31-pound weight gain in a year!

“I don’t mean no harm, but I had a Mountain Dew this morning and right before I came around here I had a can of orange soda,” Rollins confesses. James says it’s important to try and cut down. But the reality of even cutting down to one soda a day sinks in as one member of the group observes, “instead of 31-pounds it be 15½-pounds she’ll gain in a year, so that’s still a lot of weight that’s over a pound a month.”

OK, so drinking water is the ideal solution, but sometimes you want something with a little flavor. So, James demonstrates a recipe to share, “it’s a chopped Island Blast Smoothie it has bananas, pineapple, pineapple juice, strawberries, and light coconut milk.”

As everyone enjoys their smoothie sample, the group discusses challenges to changing daily habits. For James, having a peer group is an important piece of the program. “being able to discuss things with one another in the class is probably the best part. They give each other good ideas they give me good ideas.” So, learning together is a good start. But as the class was winding down, outside there’s a reminder about the easy availability of sugary treats and drinks… the ice-cream truck.


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High Tunnel farming caught my eye because its extended growing season adds to the amount of local produce we get. While farm manager Aviva Asher was tidying up the winter crop to make way for spring, I discovered another benefit of local growing: use what you’ve got.

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