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Sugar-Sweetened Drinks: Can They Cause Diabetes?

Dr. Kristie Leong

Did you know Coca-Cola buys more sugar than any other company in the world? They do this to meet the public's insatiable desire for soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages. Yes, we're a nation addicted to soft drinks, and this passionate craving for sweet, fizzy beverages shows no signs of letting up. Most people already know that soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened drinks cause weight gain, but there's been less focus on their part in potentially causing diabetes. Do soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened drinks really increase the risk of type 2 diabetes?

Diabetes and Soft Drinks: What's the Association?

Recently, researchers did a meta-analysis - an in-depth look at eleven studies that focused on sugar-sweetened beverages and diabetes risk. This analysis showed that people who drink sugar-sweetened drinks have a 26% higher risk of diabetes and a 20% greater risk of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Both metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes are on the rise in this country due to the increasing incidence of obesity, poor diet and lack of physical exercise. Now you can add soft drinks to the list.

Why Do Sugar-Sweetened Drinks Increase the Risk of Diabetes?

The most obvious way sugar-sweetened beverages increase the risk of diabetes is by causing weight gain. The average can of soft drink has almost 150 calories with close to 99% of the calories coming from sugar. When you drink a few cans each day along with meals, the calories really add up. On the other hand, researchers think there may be other mechanisms behind the higher risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes such as increased insulin resistance. Concentrated sources of sugar, such as soft drinks, have a higher glycemic load. This rapid influx of sugar causes cells to be less sensitive to insulin, and decreased insulin sensitivity is a hallmark of metabolic syndrome.

Diabetes and Soft Drinks: The Take-Home Message?

However you look at it, soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages aren't healthy. Drinking soft drinks also increases the risk of heart disease, kidney stones, tooth decay, osteoporosis, and weight gain. The bottom line? Look for healthier "sipping" alternatives such as green tea and water flavored with a little lemon. Think of the calories you'll save - plus you'll be lowering your risk of diabetes.

References:
Beverage Daily website. "Sugar-sweetened drink's diabetes link 'clear and consistent': Meta-analysis"
Belly Bytes website. "Soft Drink Facts".


Health Disclaimer. Copyright ©2010. Dr. Kristie Leong is a family practice physician and medical writer. Published with permission.