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Visualize the Sugar
I've written easily half a dozen reports on different research articles focusing on the effects of drinking sugar-sweetened beverages on your weight and your kids' weight as well as contributing to high blood pressure, poorer cholesterol scores, diabetes, gout, and kidney disease.

Should you be concerned about the sugar in your kids' cereal?
If you've been following Dr. Gourmet for more than a little while, you're probably aware that I feel that breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Studies show that those who eat breakfast have better cholesterol scores, lower Body Mass Index and tend to eat less throughout the day.

One Way to Resist Cravings
Most people have cravings of some kind, whether it be for an addictive substance like alcohol or cigarettes, or for something benign, like chocolate or french fries. Most find cravings to be mild and momentary, but sometimes cravings can be a real problem: people trying to lose weight can have cravings just as strong as those struggling with alcohol dependence.


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Another Reason to Avoid Sugary Drinks: Your Blood Pressure

Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, lemonade, sweetened fruit drinks and punches has been shown to be linked to obesity, leading to diabetes and heart disease. Being overweight is also linked to high blood pressure, which can also lead to heart disease, as well as stroke, kidney disease and a higher risk of death from all causes - which means a shorter life expectancy. Certainly the added calories that come from drinking sugar-sweetened beverages contributes to a person's weight problem, but one research group wondered if those sugar-sweetened drinks might somehow more directly affect a person's blood pressure.

In a prospective study (a study in which a group of people are followed for a period of time, as opposed to a study in which the participants report on what they did in the past), researchers from seven different United States universities and public health centers collaborated on analyzing data from the PREMIER study (Circulation 2010;121(22):2398-2406). This study was created to be an 18-month trial of 2 different behavioral interventions in 810 adults with high blood pressure. The control group for this study was known as the "advice only" group, which received information (but no counseling) on weight loss, increasing physical activity and a low-sodium diet.

The second group was called the "established" group, and it received the same information as the advice only group, with the addition of regular counseling on weight loss, physical activity and a low-sodium diet.

The third group received the same counseling as the "established" group with the addition of specific counseling on the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. This group was called the "established plus DASH" group.

The researchers measured the blood pressure of each participant at the start of the study and every three months thereafter until the close of the study. Further, each participants' height and weight were assessed at each three-month interval. Finally, each participant responded to dietary questionnaires at the start of the study as well as at the 6-month point and the end of the study. These questionnaires included questions about how much sugar-sweetened beverages, diet beverages and caffeinated beverages the participant drank.

The researchers found that over the course of the study, those who reduced their sugar-sweetened beverage intake by 1 serving per day reduced their systolic blood pressure (the top number) by almost 2 points and their diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) by a little over 1 point. This relationship was still significant, if smaller, even when the scientists controlled for the amount of weight a participant lost during the study.

What this means for you

The researchers observed that drinking just two fewer sugar-sweetened beverages per day would help lower your blood pressure by about 3 points. This reduces your risk of death by stroke by about 8% and from heart disease by 5%. In this study there was no effect on blood pressure when a participant reduced their caffeine intake or diet beverage intake. Instead of sugar-sweetened beverages, at the very least switch to diet versions, although those have also been associated with weight gain. Best to drink coffee, tea or water. They're much better for you.

First posted: June 2, 2010