Written by: American Heart Association
If you’re in the habit of quenching your thirst by filling your glass with something sugary – this might sour you on the idea.
New research says women who drink one or more sugar-laden beverages every day – such as soda, sweetened water and teas and fruit drinks – could boost their cardiovascular disease risk by 20% compared to women who rarely or never drink them.
The daily drinks also were associated with a 26% higher likelihood of needing a procedure to open clogged arteries, such as angioplasty, and a 21% higher chance of having a stroke.
It’s the latest in a line of studies showing the potential harm from sugary drinks – and a reminder the ideal number of such drinks in a healthy diet is zero, said Karen Clifford, a registered dietitian and wellness coordinator at UH Brunner Sanden Deitrick Wellness Center in Mentor, Ohio.
“There really isn’t a known safe amount for sugar-sweetened beverages,” said Clifford, also the dietitian for the cardiac rehab department at Lake Health.
The liquid sugars in such drinks quickly enter the bloodstream and get to organs faster. “If we regularly drink sugar-sweetened beverages, that overload of sugar on our organs – such as our liver and pancreas – can increase our risk for diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease as well as heart disease.”
The drinks are full of calories that don’t fill you up, she said, and few people compensate by eating less. That leads to obesity – specifically, abdominal obesity. “More fat in our abdominal area increases our risk for more organ-related diseases.”
Sugary drinks also cause our bodies to produce triglycerides. Some are stored in the liver, but when they are released into the bloodstream, they can cause plaque to build up in the arteries which also increases heart disease risk.
The study, published in May in the Journal of the American Heart Association, defined sugary beverages as caloric soft drinks, sweetened bottled waters or teas and sugar-added fruit drinks, not 100% fruit juices.
The research, part of the ongoing California Teacher’s Study, included more than 106,000 women who answered a food questionnaire about how much and what they drank.
The kind of drinks women chose made a difference. One or more sugar-added fruit drinks a day was associated with a 42% greater likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease compared to women who rarely or never drank them. With soft drinks, that likelihood was 23%.
“Although the study is observational and does not prove cause and effect, we hypothesize that sugar may increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases in several ways,” senior study author Cheryl Anderson said in a news release. She is professor and interim chair of family and public health at the University of California San Diego. “It raises glucose levels and insulin concentrations in the blood, which may increase appetite and lead to obesity, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.”
Clifford, who was not involved in the research, said anyone trying to kick the sugary-drink habit should start by understanding water is the best choice for a thirst-quencher. “Having a bottle of water with you all the time encourages you to sip on it regularly throughout the day therefore keeping you hydrated,” she said.
Someone who is used to the taste of juice or sports drinks can dilute them with water.
“Some healthy alternatives include adding a splash of 100% fruit juice to a large glass of water, which can help flavor it without adding too many sugars,” she said. Some bottled waters have sweeteners that add flavoring without calories or sugar substitutes.
You also can just cut up some of your favorite fruits and add them to a carafe of water in the fridge. “Let it set for a few hours to allow the fruits to infuse into the water,” she suggested.
An occasional diet beverage is OK, she said. “The problem is sugar substitutes are several hundred times sweeter than sugar and can lead to craving more sweet drinks and foods. If you are trying to decrease your taste palate for sweets, you should minimize your intake of sugar substituted beverages as well.”
Sugar-sweetened beverages are the biggest source of added sugars in the American diet; a typical 12-ounce can of regular soda has 130 calories and 8 teaspoons (34 grams) of sugar.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar to no more than 100 calories a day, which is about 6 teaspoons, or 25 grams, for most women. For men, the recommendation is no more than 150 calories a day, which is about 9 teaspoons of sugar or 38 grams.
The AHA has some tips on how to switch to healthier drinks that will quench your thirst and still taste good!