Drinking sugar-rich beverages, while once thought to be a better alternative to consuming foodstuffs high in trans fats and other harmful substances, may be deadlier to the health than once thought. That’s what was revealed in a new study published Monday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
The study claims to be the most comprehensive one to date examining proof of how sugar-rich beverages could affect one’s health. Aside from conventional table sugar, the study also looked at how fructose may prove instrumental in increasing the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and also causing excess weight gain in individuals.
High fructose corn syrup, which is derived from corn starch, is one of the many low-cost alternatives to sucrose used by food and beverage makers. And while Americans are consuming slightly less sugar-rich drinks than they did about a decade ago, these beverages, mostly soft drinks, still make up the greatest source of additional sugar intake. Statistics show about half of America’s population consumers these beverages every day, with about 25 percent receiving at least 200 calories a day and 5 percent receiving a whopping 500 calories per day or more. That latter figure is the equivalent of four cans of soda.
“Since we rarely consume fructose in isolation, the major source of fructose in the diet comes from fructose-containing sugars, sucrose and high fructose corn syrup, in sugar-sweetened beverages,” according to study head Frank Hu of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Our findings underscore the urgent need for public health strategies that reduce the consumption of these drinks.”
Hu added that his team’s research is “particularly concerning” as the data shows consuming one or more sugar-rich drink a day is enough to accelerate weight gain and obesity. “Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages can lead to weight gain because the liquid calories are not filling, and so people don’t reduce their food intake at subsequent meals,” he added.
The study had reviewed information from recent epidemiological studies and their respective meta-analyses, and discovered that consuming a sugary drink or two a day could pose significantly greater health risks. People may have as much as a 26 percent greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes, a 35 percent greater chance of fatal cardiovascular disease or a heart attack, and a 16 percent greater risk of stroke.
Interestingly, fructose’s metabolism process in the human body was also a key part of the study, specifically how the substance is associated with weight gain. According to Hu, fructose is, unlike glucose, metabolized in the liver and not in the bloodstream. It can then be converted to triglycerides, which could cause fatty liver disease and insulin resistance. Both are key variables that increase the chances of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Another possibility is a higher risk of gout due to an excess of uric acid in the blood.
In the light of his group’s study, Hu believes that the best way to prevent cardio-metabolic diseases and control weight is limiting intake of sugar-rich beverages.