Sugary Beverages Are a Hidden Enemy of Health

November 11, 2010

Nutrition in the News

Julie Godfrey

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have concluded that daily consumption of one to two sugar-sweetened beverages increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome X by 26 and 20 percent, respectively. As this was a review of 11 previously conducted studies focused on sugar-sweetened beverages and the risk of diabetes or metabolic syndrome, it carries significant credibility.

Type 2 diabetes is a common form of diabetes mellitus that develops especially in adults and most often in obese individuals, and that is characterized by hyperglycemia resulting from impaired insulin utilization coupled with the body’s inability to compensate with increased insulin production. Metabolic syndrome X refers to a cluster of certain metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance, high blood pressure and cholesterol abnormalities, which together are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

Our bodies do need sugars. In fact, the brain specifies glucose as its fuel. However, we do not need them in the vast quantities many people now consume. Surpluses are converted by the body to fats, which, when stored, contribute to excess weight. Erratic surges in blood sugar caused by sudden influxes of sugars contribute to insulin resistance. Both these factors are recognized to increase the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. In addition, added sugars are devoid of nutrients and can in fact lead to nutrient deficiencies. So, overall, the argument for frequent consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages looks fairly bleak if you want to enjoy good health.

As sugar-sweetened beverages are drinks, rather than food, they are a kind of hidden enemy. I often find that clients will scrutinize their food intake but forget about the nutritional or calorie contribution that comes from what they are drinking.

So how may you avoid this common trap? Sugar-sweetened drinks include sodas, juice drinks, iced teas and even flavored milk or yogurt-based offerings. So first, take a look at your liquid inventory and be aware of what you drink, how often and how much. Best are water (if you find it dull straight, try it with a twist of lemon or a hint of natural fruit blended in), green and herbal teas and diluted natural juices made without adding sugar. OK, I acknowledge that even I flinch at the idea of unsweetened passion fruit juice, but do we really need to add sugar to succulent mangoes or ripe pineapples? With sharper fruits, try adding a natural sweetener such as banana or even dried dates. Why is this better? Whole fruit comes packaged with nutrients, so, while sugar is still present, it at least provides some nutritional support to the body.

When shopping, read product labels. If sugar, sucrose, glucose, dextrose or any kind of syrup appears in the first three ingredients, recognize that the item will not be the healthiest choice. Don’t be swayed by added vitamins. These tend to be limited and are generally not an adequate substitute for the real thing. Take care with concentrated real juices and dilute when serving. Reaching for artificial sweeteners can avoid the calories, but does not cure you of a sweet tooth. Instead, aim to gradually reduce added sugar over time, and you will find that your palate adjusts accordingly and that your waistline and wallet will thank you for it.

Sources: Science Daily (www.sciencedaily.com), Harvard School of Public Health (www.hsph.harvard.edu), American Diabet-es Association Diabetes Care (care.diabetes journals.org), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov), International Diabetes Federation Diabetes Atlas (www.diabetesatlas.org).

Julie Godfrey is a nutritional therapy practitioner and full member of the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT). For more information, see www.foreverhealthyco.com.

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