Can You Get Diabetes by Drinking Sugary Beverages?

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It’s well known that people who have type 2 diabetes should limit their consumption of sugary drinks—but do sugar-sweetened beverages increase the risk of diabetes in the first place? A study published in Diabetes Care last October suggests the answer may be yes.

A team of researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health extracted data on more than 190,000 men and women from three major studies that tracked consumption of sugary drinks, including 100 percent fruit juices, soft drinks, sugar-sweetened iced tea, and sports drinks.

After adjusting for other dietary changes, body mass index, and lifestyle factors, the authors found that subjects who upped their sweetened-beverage intake by at least half an 8-oz. serving a day over four years had a 16 to 18 percent increase in the risk of diabetes over the following four years. If they switched out one daily serving of sugar-sweetened beverages for coffee, tea, or water, their diabetes risk decreased by 2 to 10 percent. However, the researchers couldn’t rule out that reverse causation led to this finding.

According to the researchers, sugar-filled drinks may pique appetite, which can lead people to eat more, gain weight, and experience trouble with insulin sensitivity. But artificially sweetened drinks aren’t necessarily any better: In the studies reviewed, people who relied on artificially sweetened liquids also had a higher risk of diabetes, possibly because the intense sweetness stimulates appetite and overeating or because the sweeteners themselves kick off a biochemical process that alters metabolism. It’s also possible that artificial sweeteners don’t cause diabetes but that people at higher risk of diabetes tend to consume artificially sweetened drinks.

The bottom line: Avoid fruit juice and beverages with added sugar. Limit use of artificial sweeteners. Instead, opt for water, coffee, or tea, preferably unsweetened.