The Not So Sweet Side of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

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Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are the leading source of added sugars for many people. SSBs include soda, fruit drinks, and sports drinks. Two problems with them: Liquid calories are not as satiating as calories from food; and added sugar has adverse metabolic effects when consumed in excess.

In fact most, but not all, research has linked SSBs to a host of metabolic and cardiovascular disorders. In November 2017, researchers reviewed 36 studies on SSBs from the past decade in a paper in the Journal of the Endocrine Society. The weight of evidence, they concluded, indicates that people who regularly consume SSBs are at increased risk for hypertension and cardiovascular disease. In the long term, SSBs contribute to obesity, prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of interrelated risk factors that includes abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar or insulin resistance.

People who drink lots of SSBs tend to have a poor overall diet and other poor health habits. One positive note: A study published in 2017 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that cutting down on SSBs may encourage people to improve their diets.

Participants, mostly overweight or obese, took part in three classes and 11 interactive phone calls designed to teach them only how to cut down on sugary beverages. After six months, they not only reduced their intake of sugary beverages by a third, but they also cut their intake of total added sugars by a third and daily calories by 285. Plus, they improved their overall diet quality (“healthy eating index”)-for instance, by eating slightly more vegetables and whole grains. The researchers suggested that this is an example of how healthy changes in behavior may “cluster” and how one dietary improvement can lead to others.