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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.

Soft Drinks and Gout
Contrary to popular belief, gout is not a disease of the past. It actually is the most common inflammatory arthritis in men, and its prevalence has actually doubled in the past few decades. Those who suffer from gout are often told to limit their intake of purine and alcohol to help minimize attacks. 

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.


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Fresh Juice Better; Water Still Best

The kinds of beverages people tend to drink varies by ethnic group. In the United States, for example, middle-aged and older Mexican Americans tend to drink more sodas and sugar-sweetened beverages than non-Hispanic whites. People in Central America tend to drink more soft drinks and consume more sugar in general than those in more developed countries.

Researchers at Harvard noted that Costa Rican adults are far more likely to experience Metabolic Syndrome (a cluster of health measures which include poor cholesterol scores, high blood sugar, and more, which presages diabetes and heart disease) than the general US population (J Nutr 2012;142(6):1081-1087). A traditional Costa Rican beverage is known as "fresco," which is fresh fruit juice diluted with water and with sugar added. Since Costa Ricans also tend to drink more fruit juice in general, was their fruit juice consumption somehow linked to their poor health measures?

The researchers made use of information gathered in a study of over 1,800 Costa Rican adults between 1994 and 2004 who also submitted to blood tests for cholesterol and other scores. Along with medical and demographic information, the study gathered information on the beverages the participants drank. These beverages included water; diet and regular sodas (regular and decaffeinated); fruit drinks made from a powder or drunk from a box; fresco; and fresh-squeezed, unsweetened fruit juice.

After comparing the participants' beverage intake with the outcomes of their blood tests, the researchers found that about half of the participants drank frescos more than once a day, while only 15% of them drank fresh-squeezed juice as often. Instant drinks were more popular than regular soda, and the soda drinkers tended to be younger and male.

Those who drank more fresh-squeezed juice tended to have higher HDL cholesterol levels (the good cholesterol). Those who drank more fresco, however, had better glucose scores, and those who drank more instant drinks or sodas tended to have a higher waist circumference. In fact, those who drank at least one instant drink or sugar-sweetened beverages per day were at least 139% more likely to experience Metabolic Syndrome.

On the other hand, the researchers were able to determine that if the participants had substituted one serving of homemade fruit juice for one serving of instant drinks or sodas, they would reduce their risk of Metabolic Syndrome by 29%.

What this means for you

I know that the vast majority of Dr. Gourmet readers are in the United States, Europe, and other more Westernized countries, so you're likely to drink far more soda than instant sugar-sweetened beverages or fresco. Still, this is another good sign that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages like soda or commercial fruit drinks is something you should simply avoid. Yes, fresh juice is better, but it's not nearly as satisfying (and fiber-filled) as eating the fruit. Drink water, coffee, or tea, and eat your fruit.

First posted: June 20, 2012