Moderation, portion control are key to healthy eating plan

New York City officials have said they plans to ban the sale of sodas and other sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in restaurants and venues. Cutting back on pop and juice could be a good thing, local health officials said, but healthy eating is...

War on Sugar

New York City officials have said they plans to ban the sale of sodas and other sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in restaurants and venues. Cutting back on pop and juice could be a good thing, local health officials said, but healthy eating is more than that.

Many dieticians and nutritionists will tell you there are no forbidden foods. What you must consider is how many calories in total you are consuming and how all the foods you consume fit into a healthy eating plan.

"I don't have a problem with people drinking regular pop," said Dr. Eric Johnson, assistant director of the diabetes center at Altru Health System, Grand Forks. "But people drink more pop than they should. Again, this comes back to portion control."

The advice local health officials gave was not new: Everything in moderation for adults and children. If you're going to drink juice, read the label. Try to stick to 100 percent juice, without added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Drink lots of water.

New York City's plan -- even though it was intended to make people healthier -- has met with significant backlash. Why ban big sodas when other foods are just as sugary and calorie laden? What's to prevent people from buying five small drinks if they can't buy one large one? Still, with obesity becoming more and more of a health crisis for children and adults, what and how much Americans are eating and drinking are valid concerns.


Sylvia Escott-Stump, president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said at the time the planned ban was announced that the academy supported strategies to encourage people to make healthful food choices. However, whether bans and taxations like the New York proposal will work was mostly theory, she said.

"There is conflicting research on whether these programs actually result in behavior change that leads to positive health outcomes," Escott-Stump said in a news release.

100 percent

If you or your children are going to drink fruit juice, said Karina Wittmann, a registered dietitian at the UND Wellness Center, stick to 100 percent juice whenever possible and drink just one glass per day. (Four ounces equals one serving of juice.) Otherwise, focus on eating whole fruits and vegetables.

"It is going to be higher in calories, having orange juice vs. an orange," Wittmann said. "But I know how hard it is to pull juice out of a person's diet entirely. Parents have already been told not to give their children pop. They say, 'What are we supposed to give them?' They can't drink milk or water all the time."

One alternative is fruit-flavored water, which has few (or no) calories. Wittmann said she knows people who make their own fruit-infused water by cutting up oranges, lemons, limes or strawberries, even cucumber and mint, and adding it to water. It's less expensive than buying it already bottled.

With portion sizes "out of control," Wittmann said, she thought at first that the New York proposal could be a good idea. But when she read that the ban would not apply to sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces if they contained alcohol, the plan seemed less good.

People should pay more attention to what they're consuming, but a ban may not be the most effective way of encouraging compliance, she said.


Moderation is the key to eating and drinking in a healthy way, said Jennifer Haugen, a registered dietician at Altru Health System. Fruit juice is more nutrient dense than soda, but a piece of fruit has more fiber and fewer calories than juice. Fruit will keep you full longer than a glass of fruit juice.

How do you know you're consuming too much juice or pop? It depends on the person and their lifestyle. Some people need just 1,200 calories a day while others, such as athletes, may need 3,500. To determine how many calories are appropriate for you, Haugen recommends the website

"My thinking is you need to make healthy choices easy choices," Haugen said. "You need to make it easy and convenient for people. If it's not convenient, it's more likely to steer people away from certain things."

Johnson stresses portion control and reading labels on beverages. One 12-ounce serving of Pepsi, for instance, has 150 calories and 41 grams of carbohydrates, which your body will turn into sugar. So if you drink six cans of Pepsi a day, you've consumed 900 calories.


Some parents have even more compelling reasons to monitor their children's sugar intake. Erin Bussian of Grand Forks and her husband, Dan, have three children ages 3, 2 and seven months. When their oldest, Sam, was two, after his second MMR vaccination, he began losing his language skills, breaking down emotionally and stuttering. Erin Bussian began to fear he was exhibiting symptoms of autism.

"Luckily, I had read years earlier in a psychology class about success in treating vaccine-induced autism with dietary intervention," she said. It took months of modifying her son's diet, eliminating gluten, dairy and, finally, juice. Her son is once again himself, she said.

"Believe me, I wish we could eat like television commercials tell us we're supposed to," she said. "It's easier and cheaper, and we wouldn't have to feel like fringe weirdos for eliminating such common foods from our diets."


Johnson, who works with diabetes patients who are monitoring their sugar intake and checking their blood sugar daily, doesn't think banning high-sugar foods will work.

"I don't think it's unreasonable to consider a tax on high calorie beverages because that's a tax you don't have to pay," he said. "And there's no question these high calorie beverages are contributing to obesity in America."

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