It may come as no surprise that drinking a sugary soda isn’t good for you, but a new study suggests that the regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages could be responsible for as many as 25,000 U.S. deaths per year.
Presented to the American Heart Association by the Harvard School of Public Health, the study examined the link between sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda, with body mass index (BMI) and chronic disease including diabetes, heart health and obesity-related cancers. The study concluded that because sugary beverages are associated with excessive weight gain, they could also be a contributing factor to death from these weight-related diseases.
While the study was preliminary and only shows a possible link between soda consumption and disease, it adds to the mounting research on a high-sugar diet and chronic health problems.
“It’s not surprising that we’re seeing more evidence of soda’s effects on health,” says Christopher Suhar, MD, a cardiologist and integrative medicine specialist at Scripps Center Integrative Medicine. “With soft drinks, you’re basically drinking pure sugar which, over time, can increase your fasting glucose level and cause issues like obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.”
In the U.S., the trend toward supersizing food and beverages further increases the risk for developing weight-related diseases. Larger portions of soft drinks mean that more calories can be consumed in a short amount of time.
“The majority of chronic diseases are a result of lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise and how you manage stress,” notes Dr. Suhar. “This study looks at one aspect of health and shows that eating an unhealthy diet that’s high in sugar will put you at risk for a variety of health problems.”
Giving up soda, especially for those who drink it every day, may not be easy. Many people may be looking for alternatives such as fruit juice, sports drinks, flavored waters or energy drinks to fill the void, but Dr. Suhar warns against replacing one sugar with another.
“The myth is that a lot of soda alternatives are healthy, such as sweetened iced tea or juice,” says Dr. Suhar. “The reality is that those are just as sugary and just as bad for you. A 12-ounce can of pre-sweetened iced tea or orange juice has as much sugar as a 12-ounce can of regular soda.”
Dr. Suhar suggests opting for unsweetened teas or adding lemon and lime to sparkling water instead of sugary beverages. He also adds that just because some sweet beverages are labeled “diet,” they may not be any better.
“Diet sodas and flavored drinks are full of chemicals,” adds Dr. Suhar. “We don’t have a full understanding of the harms they could cause. There is also some data showing that diet sodas might actually increase obesity. The sugar substitutes could be fooling the body, ultimately making it hungrier. Stick with water if you are thirsty. If you want something sweet, eat a piece of fruit instead of drinking fruit juice.”