Sweetened Beverages: To Drink or Not to Drink?

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles | May 30, 2016

We all know that eliminating sugar-sweetened drinks from our diets helps with weight management, yet many children and adults are drinking these sugary beverages every day, and even at every meal!

The Journal of the American College of Cardiology released new research on sugar-sweetened drinks and their effects on our health. They found that a daily habit of drinking sweetened beverages, such as soda, lemonade, sweetened iced teas, sports drinks, or flavored water, do more harm to our bodies than just adding a few pounds. Studies found that the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks lead to more serious health complications, including increased risk of heart attack, diabetes, and even stroke.

The main culprit in sweetened beverages is fructose, which is a sugar that manufacturers use to sweeten their products. Fructose contains empty calories that provide no nutritional benefits and is linked to cardiometabolic health risks, like diabetes and heart disease. While glucose is absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract, fructose takes a different path and is metabolized in the liver, which causes elevated triglyceride levels, fatty liver disease, and insulin resistance.

The Journal stated that “data over the past three to four decades have shown a close parallel between the rise in added sugar intake and the obesity and diabetes epidemics in the United States.” It goes on to explain that sugar-sweetened beverages are the single greatest source of calories and added sugars in the American diet, which leads to a few alarming trends:

  • Individuals who consume one to two servings of sugar-sweetened drinks per day have a significantly higher risk of developing diabetes compared with those who consume less than one a month.
  • Individuals who consume two or more sweetened beverages per day have a greater risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) compared with infrequent drinkers.
  • Drinking one or more sugar-sweetened drinks per day is associated with an increased risk for stroke.

Reducing or eliminating sugar-sweetened beverages from our diets may not solve the obesity epidemic in the United States, but it’s a great place to start in our efforts to better manage our weights and prevent cardiometabolic diseases. Behavior modification tools are useful for changing dietary habits. Small and simple substitutions, such as drinking only water with dinner or flavoring water with freshly squeezed lemon juice, can lead to permanent behavioral changes that’ll benefit our bodies.

If we continue to spread awareness and educate pediatricians, primary care physicians, coaches, teachers, parents, and children on the dangers of sugar-sweetened drinks, we can gradually remove them from our diets and see overall improvements in our health.

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles's profile picture

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles

Jenn Giles, R.D., C.S.S.D. is all about health and wellness. She has over 15 years’ experience, including a dual master’s degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. She is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She supplements all of this with her spin instructor certification and USATriathlon Level I Coach Certification.

Jennifer is passionate about (actually, obsessed with) the sport of triathlon. She has been personally participating in triathlons since 2000 and running road races since 1992. She is a two-time Ironman finisher and has completed countless numerous marathons. She has been a member of Power Bar Team Elite since 2006 and competed as a member of the 2006 Aquaphor/Active.com Sponsored Athlete Team. She was ranked as USAT All American Honorable mention in 2006 and 2011. Jennifer does all of this along side of her husband, Patrick, who is an equally accomplished triathlete and runner. They try as hard as they can to do all of their training and racing together.

She will tell you, however, that her most important, most rewarding and most challenging job is as a mother of four. She knows first hand the challenges of maintaining optimal fitness, overall good health and achieving goals while raising a family - of which good nutrition is the cornerstone.

Most importantly, she knows how to motivate, inspire and challenge athletes based on their own abilities, strengths and everyday lifestyles. She believes there is an athlete in everyone - no matter what their abilities are – and if those abilities are manifold, then there is an even better athlete in there!

More blog posts.