Why we should avoid soft drinks?
Soft drinks and beverages containing sugar have bored into our diet for good. Not only in ours. Many populations have high levels of consumption. Even people living in low- and middle-income countries are drinking more and more soft drinks, and the reason for this increase is attributed to urbanization and economic growth. And unfortunately, global consumption exceeds the recommendations of experts.
Research has shown that their consumption is a cause of weight gain, through multiple mechanisms.
The global prevalence of overweight and obesity has almost tripled in the last four decades. Estimates from population studies around the world show that it increased between 1975 and 2016, from <1% to 6-8% in children, from 3% to more than 11% in men and from 6% to 15% in women. More than 2.1 billion people, or almost 30% of the world’s population, are overweight or obese, causing significant health, social and economic costs.
A direct consequence of this is an increase in the percentage of people at risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers, more than people who rarely drink soft drinks and sugary drinks.
Numerous studies have shown that the intake of soft drinks and sugary drinks is associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, both through weight gain and through other metabolic pathways. Many of them show that there is a dose-response relationship, ie the more soft drinks consumed per day, the greater the chances of developing the disease.
A meta-analysis of 17 studies found that increasing soft drink intake by just 1 serving per day was associated with an 18% higher risk of developing diabetes. When the researchers included estimates of participants‘ Body Mass Index (BMI), the correlation was reduced to 13%, suggesting that BMI is an important regulatory factor. The same was observed with the intake of fruit juices and beverages with artificial sweeteners, although the correlations were not as strong as those observed for sugary drinks and soft drinks.
Evidence has also linked the intake of these beverages to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. For example, a meta-analysis of 7 studies found that those who included them in their diet had a 9% higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease [when comparing extreme intake categories, ie no or less than one drink per month versus one or more per day]. In fact, each increase of 1 serving per day was associated with an 8% higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Some subgroup analyzes linked the intake of soft drinks and sugary drinks in general with the risk of women suffering an ischemic stroke, but not men.
Those who consume these drinks are also at risk of developing metabolic syndrome, which is considered a „harbinger“ of cardiovascular disease. This was confirmed by a review of studies conducted in children, which specifically found that the cardiometabolic risk increases as the amount of soft drinks ingested, given the increased likelihood of developing fatty disease and dyslipidemia.
Non alcoholic fatty liver disease
Their consumption is also harmful for the liver, since their intake has been associated with the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Meta-analyzes of studies suggest that both adults and children are affected. Each increase in intake by 1 serving per day is associated with a 39% higher risk of developing this disease.
Uric acid and gout
Regular consumption of these beverages, especially those containing fructose, has also been linked to hyperuricaemia and gout. Among the many studies that have been done on the subject, a meta-analysis of three studies found a double risk of gout comparing the highest to the lowest intake of soft drinks and sugary drinks. In this case, too, a dose-response relationship was observed, with an increase in intake by one portion per week being associated with a 4% higher risk of gout.
Consumption of soft drinks and sugary drinks can also increase the risk of certain cancers through obesity and the cardiovascular disorders it causes. Obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes are also known risk factors for various cancers. A recent meta-analysis of 27 studies found that there was a positive correlation between their intake and breast cancer and prostate cancer, as well as between fruit juice intake and prostate cancer when extreme intake categories were compared. (as defined in the individual studies). A subgroup analysis also found a stronger association between intake and premenopausal breast cancer risk compared to postmenopausal breast cancer risk. There was also a trend for positive correlations between intake and the risks of colon and pancreatic cancer. No increased risk of bladder cancer or renal cell carcinoma was observed.
In the coming years, it is estimated that obesity and the chronic diseases it causes will increase, so coordinated efforts should be made to prevent it.
Individual efforts should focus on healthier eating choices. Given the existence of research data on the harmful effects of soft drinks and sugary drinks, limiting them would be an important step both in weight management and in preventing and combating its effects.