What Swapping Sweet for Unsweet May Do for Your Health

Type 2 diabetes risk decreased when patients exchanged sweetened drinks for unsweetened beverages like coffee, tea or water


A decision as simple as whether to add sugar to your coffee could have a long-term impact on your risk for one chronic health condition.

A new study found that swapping sugar-sweetened drinks for water or unsweetened tea or coffee may reduce patients' risk of type 2 diabetes.

"Our findings suggest that reducing consumption of sweet beverages, in particular soft drinks and sweetened-milk beverages, and promoting drinking water and unsweetened tea or coffee as alternatives may help curb the escalating diabetes epidemic," wrote the authors of this new study, led by Laura O’Connor, PhD, of the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine in the UK.

This study looked at different types of sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks, sweetened milk beverages (like milkshakes or hot chocolate), sweetened tea or coffee, artificially sweetened drinks and fruit juice.

Dr. O'Connor and team used the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition-Norfolk study to analyze 25,639 adults in the UK. These patients did not have diabetes and were between the ages of 40 and 79 when they entered the study (during 1993 to 1997).

The patients kept seven-day food diaries several times throughout a four-year period. After following these patients for an average of 10.8 years, Dr. O'Connor and team recorded a total of 847 type 2 diabetes cases.

Dr. O'Connor and team found that every 5 percent higher intake of sugar-sweetened beverages was tied to an 18 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, the body cannot properly process insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. Untreated, this disease can lead to high blood sugar and heart and kidney disease, among other health issues.

These researchers also found that replacing one serving a day of sugary soft drinks or sweetened milk drinks with water or unsweetened tea or coffee may reduce diabetes risk by between 14 and 25 percent.

If those who regularly consumed sweet beverages could have reduced these drinks to less than 2 percent of their total energy intake, an estimated 15 percent of the diabetes cases in this study might have been prevented, Dr. O'Connor and team said.

Soft drinks and sweetened milk beverages were tied to a higher risk of diabetes. The same was not true for sweetened tea or coffee or fruit juice. However, there was evidence that swapping sweetened coffee or tea for unsweetened versions lowered risk. Dr. O'Connor and colleagues also found that substituting artificially sweetened drinks for sugar-sweetened ones did not seem to reduce diabetes risk.

This study was published online April 30 in the journal Diabetologia.

The Medical Research Council UK and Cancer Research UK funded this research. Dr. O'Connor and team disclosed no conflicts of interest.