Lesley University’s dining services offer many choices for students with dietary restrictions, including vegan and gluten free meal plan options. However, while the food has been the primary focus for health-savvy students, one of the main things that is being overlooked in our dining options is the drink selections that come complimentary with the meal plan. Many of the choices offered in the dining halls and quick service cafes are full of sugar, and I have not found many drinks for students who want to be healthier.
Studies have demonstrated time and time again that consuming soft drinks, including sodas, artificial fruit juices (such as fruit punch or lemonade), and even natural fruit juices, adds many more calories to a person’s diet. An average soft drink has about 150 calories per serving and may contain the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar. Many people think natural fruit juices are healthy, but that can be misleading. For example, the Naked brand of juices offered at Charlie’s are surprisingly high in both sugar and calories.
At Lesley’s Brattle Campus dining hall, Brattle Cafe, the only diet soft drink that is offered (excluding fruit flavored water) is a Diet Pepsi cola product. The rest, including Pepsi, Sprite, and Powerade, can have up to 25 grams of sugar per 8 oz. serving. White Hall has better drink choices, including low calorie flavored water. And both dining halls offer more nutritious options such as milk and fruit infused water. Milk may be the next best drink to compliment a meal, other than water. But milk is not even available at the two convenience cafes, Porter Cafe and Charlie’s.
Lesley Dining Services has given two extra coolers to Charlie’s to hold different kinds of drinks. However, these drinks are not nearly as accessible, as they are locked, and require an employee (usually busy during rush periods) to unlock and retrieve the drink. These drinks are also not the calorie free versions (such as Arizona Iced Tea and various types of energy drinks.) Despite adding the variety, there are still no options for low calorie drinks, except for the aforementioned Diet Pepsi, offered in the generic soft drink machine.
I reached out to Ed Fogarty, head of dining services at Lesley University to ask him about the drink selection in the dining halls. He told me that “In White Hall and Brattle we offer fruit or vegetable infused waters for free. We also have several options with no sugar such as ice tea and diet sodas in all the cafes.” This statement is true, though selections vary across the cafes. One particular comment stood out to me regarding Charlies’ drink selection, which is the biggest offender when it comes to offering the drinks with a lot of sugar. “…We also offer a variety of bottled beverages that have no sugar added.”
But “No sugar added” is also misleading– in fact, this phrase was created by beverage companies to trick the public into choosing drinks that they believe are healthy for them. Naked Juices claim to be “no sugar added”, but still contain over 60 grams of sugar. What most people don’t realize is that the term “no sugar added” should never be equated to “sugar free.” You must always be careful and read the nutritional facts to know just how much sugar, even naturally occurring sugar, you are consuming.
In addition to wanting to eat healthy, I have one other reason for being concerned about all of this: I am a Type 1 Diabetic. My diet focuses on low calorie and low sugar options to keep my blood sugars under control. A single cup of fruit juice can send my blood sugar spiraling out of control. A cup of non-diet soft drink can do much worse, and can make people like me extremely sick with high blood sugar. It’s very discouraging to look at the options offered as drinks, as I know from being a consumer that the diet options of certain drinks are available. So why are they not available at Lesley? It’s concerning to see nearly 10 different kinds of iced tea, but nothing for a person who needs a low-sugar diet option.
But this isn’t just about me. A student’s health should be of the utmost importance. To succeed, a student must be healthy to keep the brain in top shape. However, if the body isn’t fueled properly, the mind doesn’t work as well as it should. Research shows that sugary drinks cause weight gain and low energy, and can lead to bad quality of sleep and digestion issues. Without the option to cut some of the sugar out of a student’s diet, one is forced to settle for the heavy caloric intake of soft drinks, or settle for water nearly every time. Water may be the most positive source of hydration, but variety should be offered too. Reducing calories is easier when you cut out the sugary drinks; and yet, it’s nearly impossible to do that and still enjoy your meals at Lesley.