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Do Sugary Soft Drinks Contribute Most To Belly Fat And Metabolic Syndrome?

There is this on-going debate between soft drink manufacturers and their research scientists and apparently anyone else with a shred of common sense. They tell us sodas are not to blame as a contributor to obesity, diabetes, etc, but simple observance tends to show otherwise.

You don’t have to be a research scientist to see the correlation. Hang out at your local convenience store for an hour and you’ll have all the research you need. If what I’m about to blast off about ruffles some feathers so be it. Consuming excess sugar is a real problem in our society and YES soft drinks are a major contributor. From where I see it there is no debate.

If you drink sugary sodas do yourself a favor and stop right now. It’s quite possibly once of the best things you can do for your health other than quitting or not smoking.

I’ve found some interesting reports from research studies in the latest edition of the Nutrition Action Health Letter. They’re eye opening to say the least. I wanted to share the findings with you and make a case for taking an aggressive stand on cutting down sugar in your diet.

Vasanti Malik, a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health and her colleagues recently tracked more than 50,000 women over a four year period. They found that women who went from drinking no more than one sugar-sweetened drink a week to at least “one a day” gained the most weight. No surprises there but that’s just the beginning.

They also summarized results from several studies compiled with data on over 300,000 people. Basically what they found was that for EACH 12 oz. serving of sugar-sweetened drink consumed per day there is about a 15% increased risk for diabetes. There was also a 20% increased risk for developing metabolic syndrome.

As a refresher, metabolic syndrome is defined as having at least three of the following: elevated blood sugar, high blood triglycerides, high blood pressure, increased waist circumference, or low HDL cholesterol.

Are sugar-sweetened drinks like sodas completely to blame? Of course not, but they’re a large contributor to excess sugar in the diet from empty calories. It’s simply like throwing gasoline on a fire.

The inflammatory response of excess sugar in the diet is only intensified when a person consumes sugar-sweetened drinks. It’s the excessive amount of fructose that’s really driving the majority of the problems.

Individuals who consume sugary sodas have more visceral fat (belly fat) and liver fat stores. Why is this so important? Because excess fat in both of these areas signifies the greatest risk for chronic illness and disease. The excess fat stored around the liver, called ectopic fat, is a precursor to insulin resistance and high levels of inflammation. It puts you on a direct path towards increased risk of type II diabetes and heart disease.

You need to understand that fructose gets metabolized by the liver very quickly. If there’s no immediate need for the sugar to be used in energy production, there’s a conversion to fats. For those interested in losing weight drinking sugary sodas is probably one of your worst enemies.

The body cannot burn fat and make fat at the same time. You can only do one or the other at any given point in time. Drink sugary sodas and you shut off your fat burning switches, period.

I should also point out that there’s a lot of hype over “high fructose corn syrup.” Should you look to eliminate this from your diet? Yes, absolutely but don’t get fooled by food labels that hype up the fact that high fructose corn syrup isn’t in their product.

Food manufacturers are always on the look-out increased public awareness. They know you’re onto the harmful effects of consuming high fructose corn syrup so they’re simply replacing it with other sugars.

Truth be told, there’s not that much difference in most sugars. Sucrose (table sugar) is broken down by your body to about half fructose and half glucose. This is the same thing that happens in high fructose corn syrup, molasses, evaporated cane juice, maple syrup, brown sugar, honey, etc.

With a few exceptions like agave and corn syrup, most sweeteners break down this way. Corn syrup is 100% glucose and agave is darn near 100% fructose. This is one of the reasons I don’t like agave as a sweetener. If you had to pick something as an all-natural sweetener I’d probably pick organic raw honey. Of course moderation is in order because sugar is sugar is sugar.

Of course products like Truvia, Stevia, and others are also better choices for just a little sweetness in your cup of tea, etc, but don’t get carried away. These products can still contribute to an insulin response when used in excess.

Personally I recommend to my Charleston personal training clients that they try and acquire the taste for black coffee and don’t use sweeteners at all. There are plenty of herbal teas with a hint of sweetness without sugars that you can look to consume as well. Other than that stick with water, unsweetened tea, and fruit infused water.

I recently got on the kick of using a water pitcher where you can place cut up lemons, oranges, or whatever in tube that gets infused in the pitcher. This helps give the water a natural infusion of flavoring without juicing the fruit. You can find these at Target and other retail stores and they’re pretty inexpensive.

While I still occasionally do fresh fruit and green juices in my Breville juicer, I never consume store bought fruit juices. These are pasteurized and don’t provide nearly the health benefits of freshly squeezed juice.

Bottom line is if you’re looking to slim down your waistline and improve your health, cut the sugar out of your diet. You can get all the sugar you need with a couple pieces of fruit a day and fibrous vegetables. Cut out the processed and refined sugars and scale back on heavy starches from whole grains.

Most people simply don’t have the energy demands for starches most of the time anyways. This is one of the reasons I’m so big on a Primal Blueprint or Paleo type diet. Not in a super-strict way but as a foundation for eating. This just seems to work best especially with middle-age adults who have decreased insulin sensitivity.

Either way, there’s no doubt in my mind that sugary sodas and other sweetened drinks be it sweet tea, bottled fruit juices, or whatever, have a profound effect on increasing your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic illness. My advice is if you drink these things look to get it out of your diet. You’ll be glad you did.

References:

Nutrition Action Health Letter – April 2012

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston fitness trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. With a staff of over 10 certified fitness professionals, Shaping Concepts provides personal fitness programs with a specialty on weight loss and body transformation. Sign up for a FREE, no-obligations consultation today.

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Category: Nutrition.