North Americans have been sipping and slurping their way to obesity by consuming far more soda and other sucrose heavy drinks over the last four decades, a new scientific review concludes.
Basically, one extra can of soda a day can pile on 15 pounds in a single year, and the "weight of evidence" strongly suggests that this sort of increased consumption is a key reason that more people have gained weight, the research says.
"We tried to look at the big picture rather than individual studies," and it clearly justifies public health efforts to limit these types of beverages, said Dr. Frank Hu, who led the report published Tuesday in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
He and others at the Harvard School of Public Health reviewed 40 years of nutrition studies that met strict standards for relevance and scientific muster.
The work was funded by ongoing grants to his lab from the federal government and the American Heart Association.
Soda drink trends have marched in tandem with the growing obesity epidemic, but of course industry groups have strenuously fought efforts to say one directly causes the other.
Not all studies conclude that beverages are at fault though, and the new analysis ignored some that would have discounted such a link, the American Beverage Association said in a statement issued in response to the study.
"Blaming one specific product or ingredient as the root cause of obesity defies common sense.
Instead, there are many contributing factors, including irregular physical activity," the statement says.
However, Dr. David Ludwig, director of the obesity program at Children's Hospital in Boston and a long-time advocate of curbs on sodas, said blaming other factors misses the point.
"Could you imagine somebody saying we should ignore the contribution of hypertension to heart attack because there are many causes?
Yet this argument resurfaces with regard to obesity," Ludwig said.
When it comes to beverage trends and obesity, "it's like documenting the force of gravity," he said.
"There's an overwhelmingly strong case to be made for a causal relationship."
About one-third of all carbohydrate calories in the American diet comes from added sweeteners and sugary beverages account for about half of this amount, the new report says.
Unlike other carbohydrates, the main sweetener in beverages, high-fructose corn syrup, doesn't spur production of insulin to make the body "process" calories.
It also doesn't spur leptin, a substance that helps moderate appetite.
For these reasons, sugary beverages aren't as satisfying as foods containing similar amounts of calories and fly under the radar of the body's normal weight regulating mechanisms, many nutrition experts say.
The 30 studies included in the new review are all different types of experiments where beverages were curtailed or modified, studies of cross-sections of the population.
While all do not show harm, they collectively suggest that soda and sugary drinks "should be discouraged," the authors write.
Federal dietary guidelines recommend beverages without added sugars, and the World Health Organization advises that added sugars should provide no more than 10 percent of total calories.
Increasingly, sugary drinks are being restricted in schools.
In May, top beverage distributors agreed to stop selling non-diet sodas in certain schools and restricted sales in certain settings where young children buy them.
And if all of this weren't enough, we've discovered a few more shocking sugary drinks facts that will have you saying, “Just water please” from now on.
Fattening Up Your Organs
A recent Danish study revealed that drinking non-diet soda leads to dramatic increases in dangerous hard-to-detect fats.
Researchers asked participants to drink either regular sugary soda, milk containing the same amount of calories as regular soda, diet cola, or water every day for six months.
And the results?
Total fat mass remained the same across all beverage-consuming groups, but regular-soda drinkers experienced dramatic increases in harmful hidden fats, including liver fat and skeletal fat.
The regular-soda group also experienced an 11 percent increase in cholesterol compared to the other groups!
And don’t think switching to diet varieties will save you from harm: Artificial sweeteners and food dyes have been linked to brain cell damage and hyperactivity, and research has shown that people who drink diet soda have a higher risk of developing diabetes.
Soda Contains Flame Retardants
Some popular soda brands, including Mountain Dew, use brominated vegetable oil, a toxic flame retardant, to keep the artificial flavoring from separating from the rest of the liquid.
This hazardous ingredient, sometimes listed as BVO on soda and sports drinks, can cause bromide poisoning symptoms like skin lesions and memory loss, as well as nerve disorders.
"If that’s not a good enough reason not to “Do the Dew,” I don’t know what is."
Drinking Soda Makes You a Lab Rat
Many soda brands are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, a heart-harming man-made compound derived mainly from genetically engineered corn.
Where's the problem?
Genetically engineered ingredients have only been in our food chain since the 1990s, and we don't know their long-term health impacts because the corporations that developed the crops never had to test them for long-term safety.
Case in point: Some recent findings suggest that genetically engineered crops are linked to digestive tract damage, accelerated aging, and even infertility!Tweet
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