- Researchers say people who drink increasing amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages have a 16 percent higher diabetes risk.
- Experts say switching to diet soda doesn’t lower your risk.
- Reducing the number of sugary beverages you drink per day can help.
Reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes may be as simple as changing what’s in your glass.
Recent research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reports that people who drink increasing quantities of sugary beverages (including soda and 100 percent fruit juice) face a “moderately” higher risk for type 2 diabetes.
The study tracked consumption of sugary beverages in 192,000 study participants over the course of 26 years while assessing their general health every 4 years.
Researchers said they found that people who drank increasing amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages and 100 percent fruit juice had a 16 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
With obesity rates continuing to climb, obesity, diabetes, and weight loss experts are frustrated that many people would still choose to consume soda on a daily basis.
“I don’t understand why you’d want to spend those calories and sugar intake on a drink versus something you can actually eat,” said Alexis Elliott, LCSW, LISW-CP, CDE, a health coach with a specialty in treating people with diabetes and those living with obesity and eating disorders.
“Sure, people know it’s not good for you, but they don’t understand just how much sugar is in one can of soda,” Elliott told Healthline.
Many people may not know the beverage they’re drinking contains more sugar than 1 serving of Skittles candy, for example:
- one 12-ounce can of Coca Cola contains 39 grams of sugar
- one 12-ounce glass of 100 percent orange juice contains 30.9 grams of sugar
- one 12-ounce cup (a “Tall”) of Starbucks Chai Tea Latte contains 32 grams of sugar
- one quarter-cup of Skittles contains 29 grams of sugar
Fruit juice also continues to be confusing for those trying to improve their nutrition, especially with trendy “juicing” gadgets.
“The problem with fruit juice is that you’re just getting the sugar without any of the fiber or nutrients you need and benefit from when you eat an apple,” explained Elliott.
“Below the neck, your body doesn’t know the difference between apple juice and sugar water, but it does know the difference between an actual apple and a cup of fruit juice — even if it’s 100 percent juice,” she said.
This research shouldn’t send you to the store in search of diet sodas either.
People who drink artificially-sweetened beverages (ASBs) had an 18 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes, but the study authors cautioned other variables play into this finding.
“The findings regarding ASBs should be interpreted with caution due to the possibility of reverse causation (individuals already at high risk for diabetes may switch from sugary beverages to diet drinks) and surveillance bias (high-risk individuals are more likely to be screened for diabetes and thus diagnosed more rapidly),” explained the report.
Aspartame — the most common artificial sweetener in diet sodas — has come under the microscope before.
While it doesn’t raise blood sugars immediately after being consumed, a 2018 studyTrusted Source suggested the sweetener may potentially affect cortisol levels and insulin resistance.
Experts say switching from soda to diet soda isn’t the answer. Instead, the goal should be to focus on drinking more water.
Reducing the impact of sugar-sweetened beverages on your health doesn’t mean you have to quit cold turkey.
Replacing 1 serving of soda or juice with water or unsweetened coffee or tea can lessen your risk of type 2 diabetes by anywhere from 2 to 10 percent, the researchers reported.
“The study results are in line with current recommendations to replace sugary beverages with noncaloric beverages free of artificial sweeteners. Although fruit juices contain some nutrients, their consumption should be moderated,” Dr. Frank Hu, MPH, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology as well as a senior author of the study, said in a press release.
“Sugar can be more addictive than heroin,” explained Elliott. “But we are exposed to sugar all the time, and society considers it an acceptable form of addictive substance, so it’s much harder to manage or avoid.”
When working with clients, Elliott often sees this dependence on sugar in the most seemingly harmless food choices, such as flavored coffee creamer.
“I have so many clients who can’t quit those sugar-sweetened coffee creamers, and there’s so much sugar in one tiny serving,” she said.
While some details in the criteria for addiction don’t strictly apply to sugar, many others do, explained Elliott.
“First, are you drinking the substance in larger amounts to get the same effects? Did you used to drink 1 can of soda a day, and now you’re having 2 or 3 a day?” she said.
“This happens with caffeine very easily,” said Elliott. “You used to drink 1 cup of coffee, but now you don’t feel like yourself until you’ve had at least 2 or 3 cups.”
“Secondly,” continued Elliott, “have you been wanting to cut down on the substance but can’t manage to? And spending a lot of time or energy thinking about quitting? These are signs of addiction.”
“This next one is a big one for sugar and diabetes — do you continue to use the substance even though you know you have a problem that is negatively affecting your life? Like a diabetes diagnosis,” Elliott said. “And lastly, do you have withdrawal symptoms when you do stop using the substance?”
A drastic reduction in your sugar intake will likely lead to withdrawal symptoms that include headaches, irritability, fatigue, and even a bit of trembling.
“Some people do tend to use soda or that sugar-laden frappuccino as a crutch. Maybe they were raised with it and it’s that vice they won’t give up. Or they say, ‘Well, I don’t smoke or drink alcohol, but I just have my soda,’” explained Elliott.
“It is a coping mechanism for a lot of people,” she added. “When things get stressful, you reach for your can of Coke the same way some people reach for a beer, a cigarette, or a pint of ice cream.”
Elliott added that reducing or quitting your sugar-sweetened beverage habit comes down to creating new habits.
“You can train your taste buds just like you train your muscles, and one day you’ll take a sip of something with sugar that you haven’t had in a long time, and you’ll think, ‘How did I used to drink this every day?’”