Say “no” to soda

I’m not a fan of soda.

I don’t think artificial sweeteners are a great thing to ingest (partially because of research suggesting that when you trick your body into thinking it’s about to get sugar, it will turn around and all but force you to give it sugar later). As for “regular” soda? I’d rather eat my calories, thank you.

Now, new research* suggests that drinking one or two sugar-sweetened beverages a day may increase your risk of getting type 2 diabetes, even if it doesn’t make you gain weight (important, since being overweight or obese is itself a diabetes risk factor). Those beverages include soft drinks, fruit drinks, sweetened iced tea, energy drinks and vitamin water drinks. (It does not include 100% fruit juices, although I strongly advocate that people drink less juice and eat more whole fruit.)

The study was a meta-analysis, which means it looked at the data from (in this case) 11 other studies that had already looked at the association between intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and diabetes or metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a “cluster” of medical problems (including high blood pressure, high levels of triglycerides, low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, high levels of blood sugar and a large waistline) that raises your risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke when you have three of these problems.

Overall, the researched looked at information collected from almost 311,000 people, including 15,000 people with type 2 diabetes. The group of people who drank the most sugar-sweetened beverages (1-2 a day) had a 26 percent higher risk of getting diabetes than the group who drank less than one of these beverages each month.

This really got me fired up, because one of my nutritional pet peeves is the “healthy” marketing spin being used by manufacturers of sweetened drinks that have switched to sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup (which has been accused heartily of being a major player in the obesity epidemic). Guess what? This study pointed the finger equally at drinks sweetened with sucrose (aka sugar), high-fructose corn syrup and fruit juice concentrates, because they all have just about the same effect on our metabolisms.

One Seattle soda producer (which I will not name, because I refuse to give them publicity) proudly promotes its “Pure Cane” soda. Funny story: Several months ago, this soda company had one of its reps in a local Whole Foods, offering samples of this pure cane soda. (It’s in Whole Foods, because it’s healthy, right? I beg to differ, but on with the story.) So, Jeff happened to be at that Whole Foods, and the soda dude offered him a sample.

Jeff: “I don’t drink soda.”

Soda Dude: “But there’s no high-fructose corn syrup in it…it’s pure cane sugar.”

Jeff: “No, I don’t drink that stuff.”

Soda Dude (getting huffy): “Fine, you can’t have any!”

Oh, how we laughed and laughed about that one. See, good nutrition can be fun!

Anyway, my big beef with drinking sweetened sodas and other drinks is that they are the epitome of empty calories. First, there’s no nutrition in there. Second, when you drink your calories, your body does not “register” those calories (as it would if you ate your calories in solid food). Whereas you’ll still be hungry after drinking 200 calorie of soda, eating a 200 calorie snack will tide you over until the next meal, or whatever.

Now, some people are naturally thin, but an awful lot of us have to work at least a little to keep the excess pounds at bay. Why would you drink a bunch of empty calories? Why? Why?

And as for you naturally skinny minnies…if you would like to keep your future diabetes-free, you should still pay heed, and put down the soda!

* This study, conducted by researchers from the Departments of Nutrition and Epidemiology of the Harvard School of Public Health and from other institutions, was published in the November 2010 issue of Diabetes Care. Click here for a PDF of the article.

Photo: © Chaopavit | Dreamstime.com