For adults and children, the evidence is strong that cutting back on sugary drinks—or eliminating them altogether—may help with weight control and will almost surely lower the risk of diabetes. There’s emerging evidence that sugary drinks increase the risk of heart disease. The evidence is less clear-cut for artificially sweetened drinks. For adults trying to wean themselves from sugary soda, diet soda may be the beverage equivalent of a nicotine patch: something to be used in small amounts, for a short time, just until you kick the habit. For children, the long-term effects of consuming artificially-sweetened beverages are unknown, so it’s best for kids to avoid them.
Healthier drinking is not just an individual problem. Beverage makers have flooded the market with drinks that offer gobs of sugar, or an unpronounceable list of artificial sweeteners. What’s sorely lacking in the beverage marketplace is a middle ground—a drink for people who want just a little bit of sweetness, but don’t want too much sugar, and want to shy away from artificial sweeteners or stevia because of health concerns.
There are very few beverages on the market that have no more than 1 gram of sugar per ounce, without any other type of sweetener—sweet enough to please the palate but, at 50 calories per 12-ounce can, not so hard on the waistline, as long as they are drunk in moderation. Even these lightly sweetened beverages don’t get a green light—they should be occasional treats, rather than your daily source of hydration.
Soft Drinks and Diabetes
Gulping the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar over the course of a few minutes gives the body’s blood sugar controls a run for their money. Most people handle a blast of blood sugar just fine. Over time, though, a diet rich in easily digested carbohydrates may lead to type 2 diabetes (once called non-insulin-dependent diabetes and adult-onset diabetes).
Strong evidence indicates that sugar-sweetened soft drinks contribute to the development of this potentially disabling disease.
Men and women who had one or more soft drinks a day were 25 percent more likely to have developed trouble managing blood sugar and nearly 50 percent more likely to have developed metabolic syndrome. This is a constellation of factors—high blood pressure; high insulin levels; excess weight, especially around the abdomen; high levels of triglycerides; and low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol—that is one step short of full blown diabetes and boosts the odds of developing heart disease.
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