Drink Less Sugar to Dodge Diabetes

A study suggests that water and other non-sugary drinks are a smarter choice than soda and fruit drinks—often marketed as juice, but containing little—as these were found to increase diabetes risk in African American women.

Limiting sweetened beverages is one step we all can take to address diabetes. This message is important, because diabetes is a leading cause of death and disability in the United States, and black women have twice the rate of diabetes as white women.

More sugar-sweetened beverages, more diabetes

These findings come out of the ongoing Black Women’s Health Study (BWHS), a long-term study of 59,000 African American women, begun in 1995. To arrive at the latest results, researchers studied 43,960 women who were free of type 2 diabetes at enrollment and who provided diet and other health information. Researchers tracked new cases of diabetes in the group during ten years of follow-up to determine whether drinking soda and fruit drink increased diabetes risk.

Women who drank two or more non-diet sodas per day had a 24% higher risk of developing diabetes than women who drank less than one non-diet soda per month. Women who drank two or more sweetened fruit drinks per day, not including orange and grapefruit juice, had a 31% higher diabetes risk.

Only sweetened fruit drinks appeared to increase diabetes risk independently. Researchers noted that drinking soda was linked with being overweight, which in itself increases diabetes risk. In contrast, fruit drinks increased risk regardless of body weight.

Also noteworthy is that drinking soda was linked with unhealthy behaviors, while drinking fruit drink was associated with more with healthy behaviors, such as a better diet and getting more exercise.

These results wouldn’t surprise Marion Nestle, professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She notes that fruit drinks are marketed as “juice” despite the fact that they contain little juice and as much or more sugar than regular soda. This misleading marketing may lead many otherwise health-conscious people to consume sugary fruit drinks without realizing their negative effects.

Raise a glass to better health

The following steps will help you keep diabetes at bay.

• Stick to water at meals. You’ll take in significantly fewer calories if you pass on the fruit drinks and soda.

• Have no more than one 6-ounce glass of 100% fruit juice per day. Read labels and skip fruit drinks that contain anything other than pure fruit juice.

• Avoid high fructose corn syrup, a super-charged sweetener that many health experts believe is contributing to the US epidemic of obesity and diabetes.

• If you just can’t live without them, make soda and sweetened fruit drinks an occasional treat, no more than once per week. Otherwise stick to water; unsweetened or lightly sweetened tea; low-fat dairy, rice, or soy milks; or no-calorie beverages.

• Eat plenty of water-rich foods, such as vegetables and fruit. These fill you up on fewer calories, helping with weight control.

(Arch Intern Med 2008;168:1487–92; Obes Rev 2008;9:151–64)

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD

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