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The Skinny on Sugary Drinks

Written by
Mary Ann Bauman, M.D.
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We Americans absolutely love sugar. So much so that we consume two to three times more added sugars than we should every day! 

Sugary drinks - think fruit drinks, sweetened coffee and tea, energy drinks, sports drinks and soda - are the big culprits. In fact, almost a quarter of our added sugar comes from these sources. You are probably aware that sugary drinks are high in calories and can result in an unhealthy weight gain which, in turn, increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. 

But, what if you're already a healthy weight? Do you get a pass? Unfortunately, no. Sugary drinks hurt our hearts, not just our waistlines. Research shows sugary drinks can specifically lead to an imbalance in blood cholesterol, increasing the risk for heart disease, regardless of weight.

How does that happen? Turns out there are multiple ways. These include an increase in inflammation and/or clotting, which can lead to a heart attack. Increases in LDL, the bad cholesterol, and increased hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) also put you at risk. Even the liver is involved because too much sugar causes fat deposits which can result in fatty liver disease, another risk factor all by itself. Fructose, the main ingredient in sodas, increases uric acid in your body, which causes your blood pressure to rise by blocking nitrous oxide (NO), a substance that helps maintain the elasticity of blood vessels. Stiffer vessels increase the blood pressure which increases the likelihood of heart disease and stroke.

Still not convinced? Too much added sugar may put you at higher risk for dementia, depression, pancreatic cancer, tooth decay, skin aging and wrinkles to name a few of the unfortunate possibilities.   

So, is the only solution to ban added sugars from your life? Of course not. That is neither realistic nor recommended. The problem is the amount we consume.

The American Heart Association recommends a daily maximum intake of 9 teaspoons of added sugar for men and 6 teaspoons for women and children over age two. Compare that with the 17 teaspoons we average daily and you can see there is plenty of room for improvement!

Start by instilling good habits in your children because it’s much easier to do that when they are young. The American Heart Association recommends no more than one sugary drink per week for kids. As for adults and older kids who might have a sweet tooth - slowly decrease your consumption to change your tastebuds so you won’t crave all that added sugar. Be persistent and consistent, and you will find that those sugar laden drinks no longer have the same appeal. That’s an outcome you can live - longer - with!


Mary Ann Bauman, M.D., is a member of the National Board of the American Heart Association and President-elect of the American Heart Association Western States Region.

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