One sugar-sweetened soda, flavored water, or iced tea a day isn’t a going to cause any health problems if you’re slim or at a healthy weight, right? That assumption was recently found to be inaccurate by researchers in Britain. In fact, drinking just one sugar-sweetened beverage a day increased the risk of developing type 2 diabetes for people of all weights.
The study, which was published in the BMJ, pooled data from 17 earlier studies that explored links between the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and the risk of type 2 diabetes. Researchers found that a daily sugar-sweetened drink was linked with an 18 percent increase in risk. When they adjusted their estimates for body weight, they discovered that drinking one sugar-sweetened beverage a day was also associated with a 13 percent increase in risk for thin and healthy weight people.
That association contradicts what researchers previously believed—that the link between sugary drinks and diabetes was that these beverages often cause weight gain, a known risk factor for type 2 diabetes. The authors of the new study suggest that consuming a significant amount of sugar at one time (a 12-ounce Coca-Cola has 39 grams or 9.75 teaspoons of sugar, a 20-ounce bottle of Lipton sweetened lemon iced tea has 32 grams of sugar, and a Starbucks Grande vanilla Frappuccino contains 64 grams of sugar) causes a spike in blood sugar. Over time, this can increase insulin resistance, no matter what you weigh. Insulin resistance not only increases diabetes risk, it also increases the risk of heart disease.
Another theory is that high levels of sugar in your diet can have a negative impact on the microbial colonies in your digestive tract, which some studies have linked to an increased diabetes risk.
What you can do to reduce your risk
In the conclusion to the study, the researchers note that if people stopped their habit of consuming a sugary drink every day, 2 million cases of diabetes might be prevented in the U.S. by 2020. Here are some other tips to help you proactively reduce your diabetes risk:
- If you’re overweight, work to achieve a healthy weight. Even losing 10-15 pounds can lower your diabetes risk.
- Choose a healthier diet focused on lean meats and fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and low-fat dairy.
- Get regular physical activity. Aim for 30 minutes a day of aerobic activity like walking, bike riding, or swimming five days a week. Check with your doctor if you haven’t been active to find out what level of activity is safe for you.
If you have a family history of type 2 diabetes or have been diagnosed with prediabetes, talk with your doctor about specific steps you should take to manage your risk. A personal health advisor can be another resource as you work to develop a strategy to lower your risk of diabetes and other chronic conditions. An advisor can connect you with specialists, as well as nutritionists and trainers who can help you develop and stick to a plan to manage your risk factors better.