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Sugary Drinks and Your Liver

Drinking just one sweetened beverage a day may be all it takes to increase the risk for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). As the name suggests, this disorder, marked by an accumulation of fat in liver cells, has nothing to do with alcohol consumption, and many people with NAFLD have no symptoms. However, it affects approximately 25 percent of Americans and puts them at greater risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.  Researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University reported the risks of developing liver disease posed by sweetened beverages after analyzing 2,634 questionnaires from middle-aged men and women enrolled in the Framingham Heart Study’s Offspring and Third Generation cohorts. The beverages at issue include both caffeinated-and caffeine-free colas, other carbonated drinks containing sugar, fruit punches, and lemonade or other non-carbonated fruit drinks.  All of these beverages are significant dietary sources of fructose, a compound that may increase the risk of NAFLD because of the way it is processed in our bodies, the researchers said. The study participants underwent CT scans to assess the amount of fat in their livers. The link to sweetened beverages remained after the researchers accounted for age, gender, body mass index, calorie intake, alcohol consumption and smoking.

My take: This isn’t the first study to find a link between NAFLD and sugar-sweetened beverages. In 2010 researchers at Duke University Medical Center linked foods and beverages sweetened with high fructose corn syrup to NAFLD and scarring of the liver. Researchers there looked at dietary questionnaires completed by 427 adults with NAFLD. Only 19 percent of these patients reported no consumption of fructose containing beverages. The more of these drinks study participants consumed, the more liver scarring was seen. There's no treatment for NAFLD - all you can do is lose weight and lower your triglycerides if they're elevated. These beverages have no place in a healthy diet.

Does Carbonation Make You Fat?

You may have heard that carbonation leads to weight gain – a claim that goes around the internet every so often. If you sip fizzy drinks are you encouraging extra pounds? 

Can imbibing too many carbonated drinks make you fat? While the fizziness of carbonated drinks is not a direct contributor to weight gain, once you factor in the unhealthy amounts of sugar that carbonated sodas contain, adding unwanted pounds can most definitely be a side effect of consuming carbonated drinks.

If you crave the fizz, opt for carbonated mineral waters that have no added sugars or artificial sweeteners. There seems to be no solid evidence that the carbonation itself contributes to weight gain. Add a bit of fruit juice if you want a sweeter taste - you'll get the carbonation without all the empty calories.

4 Beverages to Avoid

Unless you want to add unnecessary calories and sugars to your diet, avoid these common, popular drinks.

Whether you are watching your weight or just want to eat healthier, taking a look at what you drink is key. Empty calories can lurk in all types of beverages - especially these:

1.   Coffee drinks with extras such as sugar or flavored syrup. These deliver a concentrated dose of quick-digesting carbohydrates that can lead to weight gain. A better option is a plain coffee with a little half-and-half, or, better yet, enjoy antioxidant-rich green tea instead of coffee.

2.   Frothy summer cocktails. Whether it's a margarita or a piña colada, sugary drinks pack a double dose of calories due to alcohol and sugar - some can top 800 calories in one drink! A better option is a glass of red wine (60-100 calories), a light beer (about 100 calories) or spirits with club soda and a lime.

3.   Juice and non-juice "juice drinks." These products are no better than drinking sugared water. If you want to enjoy the juice of a fruit, it’s best fresh, not bottled, and made partially or wholly from vegetables rather than entirely from fruits. If you consume fruit juice, I recommend adding purified or sparkling water to reduce the sugar content. 

4.   Soda. There just isn't anything nutritious about soda, whether it's diet or regular. If you're a soda addict, breaking the habit is among the best moves you can make for your weight and your health. Consider switching to sparkling water with a slice of citrus.

Don't miss my next post when we cover four healthy beverages.

Sugary Drinks Strike Again

The evidence is undeniable that sugar-sweetened drinks raise the risk of type 2 diabetes and have a big impact on obesity. Now a new study shows that these beverages also seem to raise the risk of endometrial cancer. An investigation from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health found that women who drank the most sugar-sweetened drinks had a risk for the most common type of endometrial cancer that was 78 percent higher than that of women who did not consume these beverages. The researchers reviewed data from more than 23,000 postmenopausal women taking part in the Iowa Women’s Health Study. The women were asked to complete a questionnaire that asked about consumption of 127 food items. Between 1986 and 2010, 506 of the women developed type 1 endometrial cancer, an estrogen-dependent disease. The study revealed only an association between the risk of endometrial cancer and sugar-sweetened drinks. While it doesn’t prove that the drinks caused the cancer, there is a plausible link: “increase(ed) consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks has paralleled the increase in obesity. Obese women tend to have higher levels of estrogens and insulin than women of normal weight. Increased levels of estrogens and insulin are established risk factors for endometrial cancer,” said study leader Maki Inoue-Choi, Ph.D., M.S., R.D.

My take? I've warned for many years to avoid consuming high fructose corn syrup, which is used to sweeten most soft drinks. These products represent a major source of the average American intake of an unhealthy amount of sugar, 355 calories per person per day. That amounts to 22 teaspoons of sugar daily. A single 12-ounce soda contains about 130 calories and the equivalent of eight teaspoons of sugar. The high glycemic load of these sugary drinks provokes insulin resistance in many people, which underlies much of the obesity in our society and raises risks of type 2 diabetes. And now we have evidence suggesting that these drinks also raise the risk of endometrial cancer, the most common cancer of the female reproductive system. These beverages have absolutely no place in a healthy diet.

Maki Inoue-Choi et al, “Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Intake and the Risk of Type I and Type II Endometrial Cancer among Postmenopausal Women”, Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention, 2013; DOI: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-13-0636

Do You Really Know How Much Wine You’re Drinking?

A new study on the subject of wine consumption shows that informal servings differ based on the size of the glass you’re usingUnless you’re measuring carefully, you may not have a clue. A new study on the subject of wine consumption shows that informal servings differ based on the size of the glass you’re using, whether you are holding the glass as you pour or whether you’re pouring red wine or white. Researchers at Cornell University and Iowa State University looked into the wine-serving issue and published their results online on September 12, 2013 in the journal Substance & Abuse. They asked students to do the pouring and here’s what they found: study participants poured about 12 percent more wine into a wide glass than a standard wine glass. They also poured more when they were holding the glass than when it was standing on a table. And when pouring white wine into a clear glass, they poured about 9 percent more than they did when pouring red. (Here, color contrast is believed responsible for the difference.) The researchers also found that wine drinkers focus more on vertical than horizontal measures and tend to consume less when they drink from a narrow glass because the serving appears larger than it actually is. For the record, a standard serving of wine is five ounces. If you want to make sure you don’t over-imbibe here are two tips from the researchers: use narrow wine glasses and pour only when the glass is on a table, not in your hand. Alternatively, measure five ounces of wine into a glass you already own and note the height of the liquid; use that observation as a rough measure in the future.

Brian Wansink et al “Half Full or Empty: Cues That Lead Wine Drinkers to Unintentionally Overpour,” Substance Use & Misuse, doi:10.3109/10826084.2013.832327