t’s not news that too much sugar isn’t good for you.
Indeed, soda, candy, and sticky-sweet confections can take a toll on your waistline, not to mention your teeth.
Now, the specific connection between diseases and sugary beverages, such as soda, sports drinks, and sweetened coffee beverages, is clearer.
Earlier this month, the journal of the American Heart Association, Circulation, released findings that show people who drink sugar-sweetened beverages have an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
“No matter what drink you take, excessive consumption [of sugar] is a problem. High overall sugar intake from any drink like coffee with sugar or juices can lead to problems,” Dr. Sanjiv Patel, a cardiologist at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in California, told Healthline. “Higher consumption of sugar leads to increased incidence of weight gain and diabetes, which in turn leads to increased risk for heart attacks and strokes.”
This study joins previous research that points to the relationship between a high-sugar diet and negative heart health outcomes.
However, in this one, the authors controlled for other dietary factors, physical activity, and body mass index, items that could be independently linked with sugar-sweetened beverages.
The results still pointed to the damaging effects sugary beverages may have, regardless of other possible cardiovascular risk factors.
A secondary finding of the Circulation study suggests people who replace one sugary drink per day with an artificially-sweetened drink (such as a diet soda) have a slightly lower risk of death.
However, if a woman drinks four or more artificially-sweetened drinks per day, she has a higher risk of death.
“Low-calorie drinks, while containing less sugar, also carry an increased risk,” Dr. Anton Bilchik, professor of surgery at John Wayne Cancer Institute and chief of general surgery at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California, told Healthline.
Soda is the poster star of sugar problems, but Americans are actually drinking fewer sugary drinks like soda today than any time in the past decade.
Yet, 1 in 10 people still get more than a quarter of their daily calories from sugar.
That’s not all coming from soda.
Feeling a little sluggish in the afternoon? Instead of a 20-ounce bottle of Pepsi (69 grams), you may take a quick jaunt down to Starbucks for a Grande Mocha Frappuccino (skim milk and no whip, please), which has —are you ready? —59 grams of sugar. Even the extra 500 steps won’t burn off that sugar crush.
Are you stocking sugary “smoothies” in your fridge, sipping them on your commute to the office, as a way to get more fruit into your diet? A 15.2-ounce bottle promises apples, bananas, blueberries, and blackberries — all while delivering 55 grams of sugar.
Does fruit provide a bit of a health halo for that much sugar? No, says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, a licensed, registered dietitian who is manager of wellness nutrition at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.
“Any liquid source of sugar, even if it is a naturally occurring form that is in a concentrate, will have the same impact,” she told Healthline. “The blood sugar and insulin levels still spike and fall with all of these options. You can dress up a drink with over 10 grams of sugar any way you like, but in the end, it’s still just sugar.”
More than 60 different names for sugar could be listed on an ingredient label.
Fruit juice concentrate seems natural, but it’s a form of sugar. Brown rice syrup? That’s sugar. Beets are healthy, so what about beet sugar? Still sugar.
If, however, you’re not keen to memorize five dozen random words, keep this rule in mind: water is best.
“Drinking water in place of sugary drinks is a healthy choice that could contribute to longevity,” Vasanti Malik, ScD, lead author on the paper and a research scientist in the Department of Nutrition in the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Massachusetts, said in a statement. “Diet soda may be used to help frequent consumers of sugary drinks cut back their consumption, but water is the best and healthiest choice.”
To get your daily sugar consumption down, it’s important to understand what you’re actually eating in a day. A food diary can help.
Whether you record your food in a smartphone app or hand-write everything in a notebook, jotting down what you typically eat for several weeks will give you an idea of what you’re taking in and how much, if any, you need to cut to reach recommended guidelines.
“Per the American Heart Association, men should consume no more than nine teaspoons or 36 grams of added sugar a day, and women no more than six teaspoons or 25 grams of added sugar per day,” Patel says. “To put this in perspective, one 12-ounce can of regular soda has eight teaspoons of sugar.”
From there, the process of cutting back begins. That, Kirkpatrick says, is tough. She recommends “baby steps” as you begin to embrace a low-sugar life.
“Ask what you can reasonably get rid of. If cravings occur… you can look toward fresh fruit like berries or apples, for example,” she says. “If cola is your big thing, start there, and try a cold turkey approach, not replacing a regular soda with a diet option.”
It’s not an easy task. Research shows sugar has qualities that may cause an addiction, and your body will call out for it.
“Part of your goals must involve support from family and friends and an environment in which sugar is not easily accessible. If this is too tough to do, then consider simply slashing all foods from your diet that have more than four grams of added sugar per serving,” Kirkpatrick says.
New regulations from the Food and Drug Administration require food manufacturers to list added sugar on food labels, beginning in 2020. This will make identifying surprising sources of sugar easier.
Sugar-sweetened beverages — from sodas to sports drinks, coffees to martinis — can be a big source of calories in your diet.
They can also increase your risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other causes of death.
While swapping full-sugar drinks for artificially-sweetened options may decrease those risks, the benefits end when you have several of those beverages in a day.
For the best benefit, kick all sugary drinks, regardless of the sweetener source, out of your house, office, and grocery cart.
Stick to drinks with less than four grams of sugar. Or water, which is always a smart choice.