Over the last 30 years in the U.S., consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) has increased from3.9% of total calories to 9.2% (in 2001). In that same time span, the percentage of overweight American adults increased from 47% to 66%. The obesity percentage rose from15 to 33% of adults.
[Did the beverages cause the weight gain, or are they just associated?]
Those are just a few of the many facts shared by the authors of “Sugar-sweetened beverages, obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular disease risk,” published recently in Circulation. Sugar-sweetened beverages, by the way, include soft drinks, fruit drinks, energy drinks, and vitamin water drinks.
Sounds like an interesting article, doesn’t it? It’s written by some of the brightest lights in nutritional science, including George Bray and Frank Hu. Unfortunately, the article is a little too boring and technical for most of my readers. Here are a few tidbits I enjoyed:
- Fructose (found in similar amounts in sucrose (table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup) may particularly predispose us to deposit fat in and around our internal abdominal organs (“visceral fat,” which some believe to be more unhealthy than fat in our buttocks or thighs).
- Fructose may also lead to fat deposits in cells other than fat cells, potentially interfering with cell function.
- Fructose may adversely affect lipid metabolism (higher triglyceride levels and lower HDL levels, which could promote heart disease).
- Fructose raises blood pressure and reduces insulin sensitivity.
- In the liver, fructose is preferentially converted to lipid, causing high triglyceride levels (associated with heart disease and insulin resistance). [The authors did not mention the common condition of “fatty liver” (aka hepatic steatosis) in this context.]
Some of the authors conclusions:
- SSBs are the largest contributor to added-sugar intake in the U.S.
- SSBs contribute to weight gain.
- SSBs may cause type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease—separate from their effect on obesity—via high glycemic load and increased fructose metabolism, in turn leading to insulin resistance, inflammation, pancreas beta cell impairment, high blood pressure, visceral fat build-up, and adverse effects on blood lipids.
I especially like their final sentence:
For these reasons and because they have little nutritional value, intake of SSBs should be limited, and SSBs should be replaced by healthy alternatives such as water.
Steve Parker, M.D.
Reference: Malik, V., Popkin, B., Bray, G., Despres, J., & Hu, F. (2010). Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Circulation, 121 (11), 1356-1364 DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.876185