We tend to take it for granted now that fizzy drinks are the drink of choice for many of us and are seen as being perfectly acceptable. But are fizzy drinks as innocent as they seem?
New research published just last week suggests that they can cause weight gain and long-term health problems if drunk every day for as little as a month.
The research, by Bangor University and published in the European Journal Of Nutrition, reported that soft drinks actually alter metabolism, so that our muscles use sugar for energy instead of burning fat.
It seems that exposure to liquid sugar causes genes in our muscles to change their behaviour, perhaps permanently.
Not only do we pile on weight, but our metabolism becomes less efficient and less able to cope with rises in blood sugar, say the researchers. This, in turn, increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.
‘Having seen all the medical evidence, I don’t touch soft drinks now,’ says Dr Hans-Peter Kubis, a biological scientist and expert in exercise nutrition who led the research. ‘I think drinks with added sugar are, frankly, evil.’
The Bangor study is only the latest in a long line of reports warning of the link between soft drinks and serious health problems.
A study in March, for example, warned that men who drink a standard 12oz can of sugar-sweetened beverage every day have a 20 per cent higher risk of heart disease compared to men who don’t drink any sugar-sweetened drinks.
The research published in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation, followed more than 42,000 men for 22 years.
Blood tests found soft-drink fans had higher levels of harmful inflammation in their blood vessels, and lower levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.
The study suggested this may be a result of the sugar rush these soft drinks cause. This increased sudden sugar load on the body may also explain research which found just two carbonated drinks (330ml each) every week appears to double the risk of pancreatic cancer, reported the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.
Meanwhile, soft drinks with high levels of fruit juice may cause severe long-term liver damage, according to an Israeli study.
People who drank two cans of these drinks a day were five times more likely to develop fatty liver disease — a precursor to cirrhosis and liver cancer. The drinks also appear to increase the risk of heart disease, liver failure and hypertension.
In children, soft drinks have been linked to addict-like cravings, as well as twisting kids’ appetites so they hunger for junk food. Already, countries such as Denmark and France are introducing soft-drink taxes to cut consumption.
In the U.S., around 100 medical and consumer organisations are now calling on the Surgeon-General to investigate the health effects of soda and other sugary drinks.
Four years ago, researchers at University College London’s Health Behaviour Research Centre discovered a powerful — and lucrative — effect sugary soft drinks have on youngsters.
The study of 346 children aged around 11 found drinking soft drinks makes them want to drink more often, even when they’re not actually thirsty — and that their preference is for more sugary drinks.
Children who drank water or fruit juice in the tests didn’t show this unnecessary need to drink. The researchers expressed concern that this may set the children’s habits for life — in particular, giving them an ‘increased preference for sweet things in the mouth’, without compensating for the extra calories by eating less food.
More recent research suggests fizzy drinks may sway children’s tastes towards high-calorie, high-salt food.
Part of this worrying phenomenon was revealed earlier this year by Oregon University investigators.
Their study of 75 children aged between three and five found those given sugary soft drinks avoided eating raw vegetables such as carrots or red peppers, but went for foods high in calories, such as chips.
This did not happen when the children were given water to drink.
The researchers said this wasn’t about simple fussiness. Instead, our tastes for food and drink seem to be shaped in a like-with-like manner.
This discovery comes on top of an earlier finding, by heart experts at St George’s, University of London, that children and teenagers who consume sugary soft drinks are far more likely to prefer foods high in salt.
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Dr Kubis believes that liquid sugars not only alter our bodies, but also foster addict-like responses.
‘The body absorbs liquid sugars so much faster because they are more easily taken into the stomach lining, and this rapid intake fires up the body’s pleasure responses,’ he says.
‘At the same time, your brain reduces its desire for the taste of nutrients such as vitamins or minerals,’ says Dr Kubis. This is what makes these sugary drinks so habit-forming.
‘There is a huge overlap between what is addictive behaviour with drugs and the use of sweet food,’ he adds.
‘In lab experiments, even rats who have been made addicted to cocaine will prefer to have a sugary drink instead of cocaine.’
‘With children, there is more evidence of addictive behaviour,’ Dr Kubis says.
‘You get tantrums, restlessness and distress if you stop their soft-drink consumption.’
So how much sugar does your favourite soda contain?
The daily recommended amount of sugar is 90g for a women, 120g for a man — yet some products provide much of your intake in one can.
Orangina (500ml): 210 calories, 51g sugar (10.2g per 100ml) — 13 tsps sugar
Sanpellegrino Limonata (330ml can): 149 calories, 33g sugar (10g per 100ml) — 8 tsps sugar
Coca-cola (330ml can): 139 calories, 35g sugar (10.6g per 100 ml) — 9 tsps sugar
Appletiser (275ml bottle): 129 calories, 28.1g sugar (10.2g per 100ml) — 7 tsps sugar
Red Bull (250ml): 113 calories, 27.5g sugar (11g per 100ml) — 7 tsps sugar
Pret Sparkling Grape & Elderflower (330ml can): 146 calories, 35g sugar (10.6g per 100ml) — 9 tsps sugar
M&S Gastropub Ginger Beer (500ml bottle): 325 calories, 69g sugar (13.8g per l00ml) — 17 tsps sugar
Eat almonds for breakfast to avoid the mid-morning sugar rush
If you have a sudden urge for something sweet in the middle of the day to raise lagging energy levels, try eating almonds for breakfast – they should help keep you going for longer, a new study has discovered.
Almonds – a low glycemic food – help make you feel full for longer, and keep blood glucose levels down, say researchers from Purdue University.
High-glycemic foods – which include breakfast cereals such as Weetabix and Rice Krispies, white bread, doughnuts and waffles – are digested quickly, and result in rapid fluctuations in blood sugar levels, often countered by eating something sweet.