Sugar-sweetened beverages and their role in chronic health conditions

Understand the link between sugary drinks and the progression of chronic diseases, which can be life threatening.

U.S. News & World Report released findings from a study conducted at Harvard School of Public Health that in 2010, over 180,000 deaths worldwide were linked to consuming sugar-sweetened beverages. This includes 25,000 deaths in the United States. This does not mean there is a direct cause and effect between sugar-sweetened drinks and death, but there may be a correlation between a high consumption of these types of beverages and death due to complications from chronic health conditions like heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.Sugar-sweetened beverages and their role in chronic health conditions

What is the problem with sugar-sweetened drinks? These beverages often have a lot of calories but provide little, if any nutrients – This is often referred to as “empty calories.” Additionally, sugary drinks are just one piece of the unhealthy choices made when as it relates to the foods we consume. "Sugary beverage consumption is often paired with other unhealthy food choices or behaviors," says Lona Sandon, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

Michigan State University Extension says that one way to benefit your health is to reduce the amount of added sugar consumed in your foods and drinks. It was reported in the 2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) that Americans consume more than double the recommended amount of sugar each day. The American Heart Association has some suggestions for reducing sugar in your diet:

  • Keep sweeteners like sugar, syrup or honey out of site to reduce the urge to add it to foods and drinks.
  • Cut back on the amount of sugar added to things you eat or drink regularly, like cereal, pancakes, coffee or tea. Start by cutting your usual amount by half and gradually decrease from there, or consider using a zero-calorie sweetener.
  • Choose sugar-free or low-calorie beverages. Water is a great choice!
  • When choosing canned fruit, find varieties that are canned in water or natural juice. Avoid fruit canned in syrup, especially heavy syrup.
  • Look for fruit juices that are 100 percent juice and have no added sugar.
  • Try zero-calorie teas, sport drinks and soda that have sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose or saccharin in moderation.

Reducing sugar-sweetened beverages is one strategy to reduce the risk of developing chronic health conditions like diabetes. Furthermore, if you have a health condition like diabetes, it can minimize complications from the disease. For more information and programs on healthy living contact your local MSU Extension office.

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