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Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Affect More than Kids' Weight
You're probably well aware that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas or sweetened fruit juices can lead to overweight or obesity through the additional calories they contain. And you're probably also well aware that those who are overweight or obese are at an increased risk of health problems ranging from diabetes to heart disease to cancer.

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.

Added sugars may affect heart health risk factors in children
Last week I shared a meta-analysis that concluded that higher levels of sugar intake in an adult's diet were "strongly associated with higher triglycerides, total as well as LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol), and blood pressure." While that study was interested intotal sugars and not strictly added sugars, this week's study suggests that those effects are not limited to adults.


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Cut Calories with Calorie-free Beverages

For the most part, losing weight is about calories in versus calories out: eat fewer calories or burn more calories (or both) and you'll lose weight. So you would think that switching sweetened beverages like sodas for unsweetened beverages like diet sodas or water would be an obvious way to cut calories.

I'd even go so far as to call it common sense.

But just because something appears so obvious as to be hardly worth mentioning, that doesn't mean that it's been proven in the world of evidence-based medicine. So it's a good thing that researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently completed a study that basically proves just that. (What's almost more interesting is that this is the first study to actually test the idea.)

They recruited over 300 clinically obese but otherwise healthy people who regularly drank at least 280 calories per day in the form of sweetened beverages such as juice, soda, sports drinks or other calorie-containing drinks. They were randomly assigned to one of three groups. Each of the groups attended regular group weight counseling meetings and received general information on weight loss strategies like reading nutrition information labels, controlling portion size and so on.

One of the groups was instructed to replace at least two of their sweetened beverages each day with the diet version of that beverage. (The researchers provided them with the diet beverages of their choice.) A second group was instructed to replace at least two of their sweetened beverages with either still or sparkling bottled water (also provided by the researchers). The third group, acting as the control group, did not receive special instructions and did not receive replacement beverages.

After six months, those who replaced their beverages were twice as likely to lose 5% of their body weight as those who received the same weight loss instruction but were not told to replace their beverages. Those who drank diet beverages lost slightly more weight than those who drank water, but those who drank water were significantly more hydrated, improved their blood pressure, and also improved their fasting glucose levels.

What this means for you

The concern with asking people to replace their sweetened drinks with unsweetened ones was that people might consume those calories in other forms. This study shows that's not something to be concerned about. If you're watching your weight, take a look at the number of calories you're getting from what you drink and consider switching to diet - or even better, water.

First posted: February 22, 2012