sodasWhen my mother was young, she lived in rural South Africa, and soda was a rare treat. She only had soda (somewhat ironically) after her twice-yearly dentist visit, when she and my grandmother would stop into a cafe to order one. She continues her habits to this day, and very rarely drinks anything carbonated and sweetened.

For many teens today, sweetened beverages are daily treats, or even enjoyed a few times a day. Teens drinks not only soda, but energy drinks, sweetened iced teas, and other sugary concoctions. About three-quarters of teens have at least one sugar-sweetened drink daily.

We’ve discussed healthy eating before, and how any sugar-containing drink should be limited to special occasions. However, an intriguing new study may point to an additional benefit of avoiding sweetened beverages: improved brain function.

First off, I should note that this study was performed on teenage rats, not teenage humans, so the results aren’t ironclad. However, what the study concluded was that teenage rats with a high consumption of sweetened drinks performed more poorly on certain mental tests, and had higher levels of inflammation in a part of the brain that controls learning and memory. Interestingly, the effect wasn’t seen in adult rats.

Why do we keep harping on beverages in particular, instead of all sweets? Sweetened beverages hit the system faster than any other sugar-containing product. If a teen was, say, eating a slice of key lime pie every hour (delicious, but not recommended), the release of sugar into their bloodstream would be slowed by other nutrients the body has to digest: proteins, fats, and complex carbohydrates. With a sugary drink, the sugar is all absorbed, and then released, very quickly. While avoiding regular intake of sugar is recommended, sweetened drinks can be the worst health offenders by exposing the body to very high levels of sugar over a very short time frame.

What do the results of this study mean? Nothing conclusive yet. However, given that there are zero health benefits to drinks containing sugar, and quite a few adverse effects, it’s just another reason to encourage your teen to choose beverages like water, unsweetened iced teas, skim milk, etc. Depending on your views on artificial sweeteners, you might try keeping diet beverages in the house instead of ones with sugar. Try to keep sugar-containing sodas and similar drinks for special occasions, instead of daily fare.

If your teen comes to see sweetened drinks as an occasional treat, they may end up like my mom and indulge rarely as adults. Try making the switch to healthier beverages… but if you have a sweet tooth, you may have to start changing your own behavior before your teen will follow in your footsteps!