By Dr. Mercola
There is no shortage of research linking excessive sugar consumption with obesity, and the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages appears to have a particularly strong link.
It was five years ago when UCLA researchers found that adults who drank at least one sugar-sweetened beverage a day are 27 percent more likely to be overweight or obese.1
Even those who only drank soda occasionally had a 15 percent greater risk, and a growing number of studies have linked rising childhood obesity rates to increased consumption of sugary beverages as well.
Still, as a general rule the beverage industry has denied or strongly downplayed its role in the childhood and adult obesity epidemics. At times, they have even presented research that appears to back up their argument. But the story has another layer, thanks to a new paper published in PLOS Medicine.2
This meta-analysis of systematic reviews reveals that, as is often the case with pharmaceutical research, beverage industry-funded research is much more likely to produce results that favor the industry.
Research Funded by the Beverage Industry Often Finds No Connection Between Sugary Beverages and Obesity
Researchers reviewed 17 papers (with 18 conclusions) and found that 11 of them supported a significant link between sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain or obesity. They then reviewed them based on whether or not the authors reported any conflicts of interest… and here's where things got interesting.
Among studies with no conflict of interest, 10 out of 12 supported the association between sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity or weight gain. Among studies with industry support, 5 out of 6 found no association.
In other words, in studies without industry support, 83 percent linked sugary beverages with weight gain. But in studies with industry support, 83 percent found no link at all.
It's a striking disparity and a likely reason why some research seems to fly in the face of common sense and show no connection between such drinks and obesity. Researchers noted:
"Those reviews with conflicts of interest were five times more likely to present a conclusion of no positive association than those without them.
…Our results confirm the hypothesis that authors of systematic reviews may draw their conclusions in ways consistent with their sponsors' interests."
Sugar-Sweetened Drinks May Cause 180,000 Deaths a Year
Half of the US population over the age of 2 consumes sugary drinks on a daily basis,3 and this figure does not even include 100% fruit juices, flavored milk, or sweetened teas, which are essentially equivalent, so the figure is actually even higher.
This is far more than simply an issue of consuming "empty calories," as sugary drinks, soda, and even fresh-squeezed fruit juice contain fructose, which has been identified as one of the primary culprits in the meteoric rise of obesity and related health problems—in large part due to its ability to turn on your "fat switch."
Fructose is also very taxing on your liver, in much the same way as drinking alcohol, making it a likely culprit behind the millions of US children struggling with non-alcoholic liver disease, which is caused by a build-up of fat within liver cells.
Around 100 years ago, the average American consumed a mere 15 grams of fructose a day, primarily in the form of whole fruit. One hundred years later, one-fourth of Americans are consuming more than 135 grams per day (that's over a quarter of a pound!), largely in the form of soda and other sweetened beverages.
Fructose at 15 grams a day is unlikely to do much harm unless you suffer from severe insulin or leptin resistance. However, at nearly 10 times that amount it becomes a MAJOR contributor to obesity and nearly all chronic degenerative diseases in all those who have insulin and leptin resistance.
Alarmingly, preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2013 Scientific Sessions suggested sugary beverages are to blame for about 183,000 deaths worldwide each year, including 133,000 diabetes deaths, 44,000 heart disease deaths and 6,000 cancer deaths.
Sugar Addiction Is Real
Endocrinologist Robert Lustig is one of the most well known crusaders speaking the truth about the clinical dangers of excessive sugar consumption, including its ability to cause an addiction similar to that caused by illegal drugs, including cocaine. When you eat refined processed sugars, they trigger production of your brain's natural opioids -- a key ingredient in the addiction process.
Your brain essentially becomes addicted to stimulating the release of its own opioids as it would to morphine or heroin. Writing in The Atlantic,4 Dr. Lustig takes on the debate of whether sugar is truly addictive, and essentially proves that it very well is:
- According to a recent animal study, Oreo cookies are just as addictive as cocaine or morphine, activating more neurons in your brain's pleasure center than exposure to illicit drugs5
- Rats exposed to sugar water demonstrate all the criteria necessary to diagnose addiction: binging, withdrawal, craving and addiction transfer (or addiction to other substances as well)6
- You want sugar even more than you want fat, as evidenced by a recent study that showed sugar, but not fat, stimulated your brain's reward center7
As Dr. Lustig states, 77 percent of food items in US grocery stores contain added sugar. So it's no wonder that, while the American Heart Association recommends a daily sugar limit of six teaspoons for women and nine for men, the average American consumes more like 22. And the more sugar you eat, the more you're going to want. Dr. Lustig continued:
"In the reward center, sugar stimulates the neurotransmitter dopamine, and dopamine drives reward. But dopamine also down-regulates its own receptor (which generates the reward signal). This means the next time round, you're going to need more sugar to generate more dopamine to generate less reward, and so on, until you're consuming a whole lot of sugar, and getting almost nothing for it. That's tolerance, and sugar is guilty as charged."
Just One Soda Has More Sugar Than You Should Eat in a Day
Just one 12-ounce regular soda contains about 140 calories and the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar. Similarly, one eight-ounce glass of orange juice has about eight full teaspoons of sugar, and at least 50 percent of that sugar is fructose. Drinking just one eight-ounce glass of orange juice will wallop your system with about 25 grams of fructose, which is more than you should have the entire day... If you drink more than one soda or additional sweetened beverages and eat processed foods, your sugar intake will quickly skyrocket out of control.
Tragically, many infant formulas even contain more than 50 percent sugar! This, I believe, gets your child hooked on sweets virtually from day one, and sets the wheels in motion for metabolic dysfunction. As a standard recommendation, I strongly advise keeping your TOTAL fructose consumption below 25 grams per day.
However, for most people it would actually be wise to limit your fruit fructose to 15 grams or less, as it is virtually guaranteed that you will consume "hidden" sources of fructose from most beverages and just about any processed food you might eat. Remember, this is linked to weight gain and obesity, yes… but also much more. According to GreenMedInfo.com, scientific studies have linked fructose to about 78 different diseases and health problems.8 Fructose may cause or contribute to the following conditions:
Raise your blood pressure and cause nocturnal hypertension Insulin resistance / type 2 diabetes Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) Raise your uric acid levels, which can result in gout and/or metabolic syndrome Accelerate the progression of chronic kidney disease Intracranial atherosclerosis (narrowing and hardening of the arteries in your skull) Exacerbate cardiac abnormalities if you're deficient in copper Have a genotoxic effect on the colon Promote metastasis in breast cancer patients Cause tubulointerstitial injury (injury to the tubules and interstitial tissue of your kidney) Promote obesity and related health problems and diseases Promote pancreatic cancer growth
The Solution? Eat Real Food
I believe the current situation can change, but only if enough people understand the simple truths of healthy eating and refuse to buy sugar-laden processed foods and beverages. If you want to protect your health, and the health of your family, my most urgent recommendation is to do just that—replace the processed foods with homemade meals, made from scratch using whole ingredients. My nutrition plan can help guide you in this transition. In short, you need to:
- Avoid, sugar, fructose, grains, and processed foods
- Eat a healthful diet of whole foods, ideally organic, and replace the grain carbs with:
- Large amounts of vegetables
- Low-to-moderate amount of high-quality protein (think organically raised, pastured animals)
- As much high-quality healthful fat as you want (saturated and monosaturated). Most people need upward of 50-70 percent fats in their diet for optimal health. Good sources include coconut and coconut oil, avocados, butter, nuts, and animal fats. Also, take a high-quality source of animal-based omega-3 fat, such as krill oil
As Dr. Lustig said:
"One thing most agree on is that sugar should be safe—and rare. That means 'real' food. In the short term, Americans must watch out for ourselves, and that means cooking for ourselves… Our current [sugar] consumption is over our limit and our "processed" food supply is designed to keep it that way. Food should confer wellness, not illness. The industry feeds our sugar habit to the detriment of our society. We need food purveyors, not food pushers."
The Best Beverage of All: Water!
Please remember the importance of drinking pure water as your primary beverage, as it is one of the most profoundly important steps you can take to achieve high-level health. Sweetened beverages, whether it's sweetened with sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, naturally-occurring fructose, or artificial sweeteners, are among the worst culprits in the fight against obesity and related health problems. Remember that sweetened beverages also include flavored milk products, bottled teas, and "enhanced" water products.
Ditching ALL of these types of beverages can go a long way toward reducing your risk for chronic health problems and weight gain. So what should you drink? Your best, most cost effective choice is to drink filtered tap water. Virtually nothing beats pure water when it comes to serving your body's needs. If you really feel the urge for a carbonated beverage, try sparkling mineral water with some slices of fresh lime or lemon.