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Reporting on health and quality of life in South LA

Drinking a soda a day ups diabetes risk by 22 percent, says European study

European researchers were trying to see if the link between soda consumption and diabetes that's been pinned down in North America also held in Europe. It did.
European researchers were trying to see if the link between soda consumption and diabetes that's been pinned down in North America also held in Europe. It did. alan.stoddard/Flickr Creative Commons

A soda a day certainly doesn't appear to keep the diabetes at bay.

In fact, a new study appearing in the journal Diabetologia says people who have a habit of drinking 12 ounces of sugary soft drinks a day raise their risk of developing diabetes by 22 percent.

Researchers at the Imperial College of London wanted to see if the link between sugary soda consumption and type 2 diabetes that's been pinned down in North America held in Europe, too. So they looked through years' worth of data on more than 27,000 people from seven countries.

Turns out that link does hold.

The risk of type 2 diabetes jumped by 22 percent for people who drink at 12 ounces of the sugary stuff a day, which aligns with the 25 percent-increase in risk that was highlighted in North American studies.

The concern with the sugar in soda

The reputation of sugary drinks – which can include soda, fruit juice and sweetened coffees – has been taking a beating in the health arena in recent years. The Diabetologia study, however, limited its focus to soft drinks.

Gustavo Ortega, a registered dietitian, works at Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Medical Center, the patient population of which includes a lot of South Los Angeles residents. He acknowledged the challenges of living in an area where the majority of restaurants are fast-food – meaning it's an understatement to say soda is easily available on the southside.

"There's always a concern with the sugar content that's in those beverages," said Ortega. "It can easily add up to a lot of calories." That's a difficult concept for some to grasp right away, he said, because soda is a beverage. But even though it's not an "actual meal," Ortega said "it's a fast way for someone to accumulate those calories." 

Meaning it ups a person's chances of becoming obese, which is a risk factor for diabetes. But sugar also ups that risk.

"[Soda] is a concentrated source of sugar, and it can definitely cause a quick rise of sugar that goes into the blood," Ortega explained.

That "puts the body to work" in pumping out more insulin, which puts that sugar to use. But if the body can't produce enough insulin, that sugar remains in the bloodstream, upping a person's chances of developing type 2 diabetes.

What about diet?

For Ortega, diet soda isn't the answer. He said while the lack of calories and added sugars can help consumers dodge weight gain, it's still "lesser of two evils."

"The concern is that these are manmade chemicals," he said, referring to the artificial sweeteners. "In the long term, what is the effect of these chemicals? We don't really know." That jives with a report the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released last October – it found that diet soda consumption had increased over the past decade-plus, but as far as what the means? The federal agency can't quite say.

Instead, Ortega said, water is "definitely" his "number-one recommendation for a healthy beverage. If that sounds boring, he suggested adding some flavor to the water – throw some lemon slices, berries or watermelon cubes in there.

And soda – regular or diet – is OK in moderation, he added.  But he recommends drinking no more than four ounces in one day, and not every day.

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