Bittersweet truth: The Impact of Sugary Beverages On Health

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Bubble teas, frappuccinos, and sodas–these sugary beverages are often so enticing that we can’t resist having them with our meals. However, these beverages are not as innocent as they may seem.

Understanding the ingredients

The most common ingredient of sugary beverages, other than water, is sugar. Sugar comes in many forms, including sucrose, fructose, glucose, and lactose. Sucrose is a common table sugar composed of glucose and fructose, and it is the backbone of many sweetened beverages.

Fructose is often derived from high-fructose corn syrup and it can pose a strain on the liver when overconsumed. Meanwhile, glucose is mainly derived from carbohydrates. Glucose may provide a quick source of energy but it can also cause a yo-yo effect where one’s blood sugar can spike and crash.

Milk-based sugary beverages will have lactose–a type of sugar that is only found naturally in milk and provides a good source of calcium. However, the culprit behind weight gain is often the added sugar, especially when overindulged.

What’s missing from these beverages?

Perhaps what’s concerning about sugary beverages is not just about what they contain, but also about what they lack. Unlike whole foods that provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fibre, these beverages offer little beyond their sugar content.

Overconsumption can lead to an unbalanced diet and deprive the body of essential nutrients needed for proper function. This is especially concerning for growing children, as excessive sugar intake can hinder intake of other nutrient-dense foods and also add to the growing issue of dental caries–also known as tooth decay–in young teeth.

Health implications

Other than the pure bliss and satisfaction we get from drinking sugary beverages, there are also many health implications we simply cannot stir away. These drinks are often laden with empty calories that can stealthily tip the scales, leading to weight gain and a higher risk of diabetes. For someone with diabetes, these rapid spikes in blood sugar levels caused by the high sugar content makes managing diabetes much harder. Poorly managed diabetes will trigger an inflammatory response as the body struggles to process the sudden influx. Prolonged inflammation is linked to a host of health problems including heart disease, obesity, and certain cancers.

Sugary beverages also have the potential to raise triglycerides–a form of bad cholesterol–and could be the catalysts for fatty liver.

Regular consumption of sugary beverages often pave the way for oral health issues. The abundance of sugars they contain are a luxurious feast for harmful oral bacteria, leading to the production of acids that erode tooth enamel, which will result in tooth decay and cavities.

Unravelling the bitter truth

Our relationship with sugary beverages is often made complicated by their alluring ability to temporarily boost our mood. After the initial high we get from consuming such beverages, our blood sugar levels can rapidly drop and cause mood swings, leaving us irritable. This emotional roller coaster can affect our overall well-being.

Sugary beverages can be deceptive in how they seem to impact our hydration. While they may temporarily quench our thirst, they can contribute to dehydration in the long run. In fact, these drinks may leave us feeling thirstier after consumption. Thus, the most effective way to stay hydrated is by consuming plain water, or opt for healthier alternatives, such as fruit-infused water or tea with no added sugars.

There are some scientific studies that suggest that sugary beverages can be addictive. This is due to the high sugar content of these beverages and how they impact the brain's reward and pleasure centres.

Sugary beverages: our verdict

Let’s not sugar-coat the facts; the consumption of sugary beverages are associated with a range of health problems. However, there may be medical circumstances where sugary beverages are used, such as in managing hypoglycaemia –a condition in which your blood sugar (glucose) level is lower than the standard range.

While there is no need to cut out sugar entirely from our lives, we can aim to reduce or eliminate the consumption of sugary beverages for a healthier lifestyle and improve our overall well-being. If you’re used to having sugary beverages with your meals, you can always opt for healthier alternatives (such as water, fresh fruit juice, or milk) instead!

 Bittersweet truth: The Impact of Sugary Beverages On Health originally appeared on Parkway Cancer Centre 
and has been republished with permission

Further Reading

The article above is meant to provide general information and does not replace a doctor's consultation.
Please see your doctor for professional advice.