April 30, 2015

It may seem obvious: Cutting back on sugary drinks can reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes. But a new study actually quantifies how much sugar-sweetened beverages increase your risk—and suggests that cutting out just a single sugary soda or sweetened milk product each day can substantially reduce your risk for diabetes.

For each 5% increase in calories provided by sugar-sweetened beverages, the study, published April 30 in Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, estimates the risk for type 2 diabetes increases by 18%. It also estimates that replacing one serving daily of these drinks with water, unsweetened tea, or coffee could reduce that risk by 14% to 25%.

The study looked at the beverage consumption of  25,000 British adults who are part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Norfolk. The participants, who did not have diabetes at baseline, kept track of their beverage intake as part of a food diary. Authors controlled for factors such as obesity, family history of diabetes, activity levels, and socio-economic factors.

"The good news is that our study provides evidence that replacing a daily serving of a sugary soft drink or sugary milk drink with water or unsweetened tea or coffee can help to cut the risk of diabetes," says study author Dr. Nita Forouhi, of the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge.

If participants replaced a serving of soft drinks with a serving of water or unsweetened tea or coffee, the risk of diabetes could have been cut by 14%. The risk decreased even more when a sweetened milk beverage was replaced with water or unsweetened tea or coffee. But replacing those sweetened beverages with artificially sweetened drinks did not change the risk of type 2 diabetes.

The study's authors did not measure in sweet beverage consumption over time, only at baseline, and the food diaries were self-reported—both limitations. The authors said the benefit of swapping sweetened beverages for water and unsweetened tea and coffee might actually be higher than reported in the study.

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