1 Simple Way to Reduce Your Diabetes Risk

Trinh Le, MPH, RD
by Trinh Le, MPH, RD
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1 Simple Way to Reduce Your Diabetes Risk

Diabetes is a daunting diagnosis, especially at the beginning as you learn everything from finger pricks to carb counting. If you’re currently healthy and don’t have diabetes, you’ll want to stay this way. If you have a family history of diabetes, then it’s that much more important to manage your risk for this condition.

When we refer to “diabetes,” we’re referring mainly to Type 2 diabetes (T2D) because:

  1. It’s more commonly diagnosed in adults compared to Type 1 diabetes
  2. It results from a combination of genetic factors you can’t control and environmental factors you can control.

If you want to learn more about the difference between the two types of diabetes, check out 25 things you should know about diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, the list of risk factors are age, ethnicity, gender, family history, weight, fat distribution, physical inactivity, high blood pressure, smoking and so forth. Dietary habits like drinking large amounts of sugary beverages don’t get their own call-out as a risk factor, but should they?

What the Science Says About Sugary Beverages

On an intuitive plane, we know why sugary beverages are bad—they’re filled with empty calories that contribute to weight gain. Indeed, research shows that we don’t eat less food calories to compensate for the calories we take in through fluids. Over time, these liquid calories contribute to weight gain, a known risk factor for T2D. But it doesn’t end there—there’s now good evidence that links drinking large amounts of sugary beverages to diabetes. What’s a potential explanation?

Sugary liquids like soda rapidly spike blood glucose since this sugar is readily absorbed into the bloodstream. Your pancreas senses this and sends out a large amount of insulin to bring your blood glucose back to normal levels. Over time these spikes in blood glucose and insulin, in addition to fat accumulation, causes your tissues to become more resistant to insulin (not good!). It makes sense that drinking more sugary beverages may raise your risk for T2D, but is there more evidence to support this?

Researchers from the University of Cambridge recently studied how people’s consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages affected their risk of getting diabetes. For their study, “sugar-sweetened beverage” included soda, sugar-sweetened milk and sweetened tea/coffee.

To examine this relationship, researchers collected data from 25,639 healthy adults aged 40-79. Food data (using seven-day food diaries) was collected from participants throughout the year over the course of four years. After 10.8 years, 847 participants were diagnosed with diabetes.

Sweet Spot-on Findings

The researchers then looked at “associations,” or data trends, to see if the type of beverage consumed affected the participants’ risk for getting diabetes. Here are some of the findings:

  • Sugary soda drinkers had a significantly higher risk of T2D. For each additional daily serving of soda (equivalent to a 12-ounce can), diabetes risk increased by 21 percent.
  • Sweetened milk drinkers also had higher risks for T2D. Every additional daily serving (about 1 cup or 8 fluid ounces) of sweetened milk increased diabetes risk by 22 percent.
  • Not all sugar-sweetened beverages led to a higher risk for T2D. Artificially sweetened beverages, fruit juice and sweetened tea/coffee did not have the same relationship for increasing T2D risk. Keep in mind that the study is looking at data trends; just because a trend doesn’t exist in this particular study doesn’t mean you can’t find the trend in other studies.

The researchers then decided to use collected data to do a thought experiment using statistical models. They wanted to predict how diabetes risk would change if the participants replaced their sugar-sweetened beverages with water or unsweetened tea/coffee. When they ran this model, they found that replacing just one sugary drink every day with water or unsweetened coffee or tea could lower people’s diabetes risk by 14-25 percent! The downside to this is it’s still a thought experiment—there’s no way to knowing for sure.

What’s the Takeaway?

Good thing you don’t need to be sure to take actions that will benefit your health! The findings from this large study add to the growing evidence we have that sugary beverages adversely affect your risk for diabetes.

If you’re a newbie on the fitness journey, and are looking for one simple way to eat and drink healthier, cut down on sugary beverages. Not only will it help you reduce diabetes risk, but it’ll also help trim unnecessary calories (and pounds). Choose water and unsweetened tea/coffee whenever possible. Check out this post if you want to kick the soda habit.

As for flavored milk? It still offers protein, fat and other vitamins and minerals (think calcium, magnesium, zinc) so it’s not just empty calories. If you want to enjoy flavored milk, do so in moderation, or after a tough workout, and choose unsweetened options when you can.

Are you trying to prevent diabetes? If so, share your thoughts in the comments below.

About the Author

Trinh Le, MPH, RD
Trinh Le, MPH, RD
Trinh is a registered dietitian by day, blogger at Fearless Food RD by night. She loves helping folks develop a better relationship with food, which includes lots of cooking, eating and learning about nutrition. When she’s not snapping mouthwatering shots of (mostly) healthy food, you can find Trinh HIIT-ing it at her local gym. For more, connect with her on FacebookInstagram and Pinterest.


12 responses to “1 Simple Way to Reduce Your Diabetes Risk”

  1. Avatar Kristina says:

    My son is addicted to diet Pepsi. What is that doing to his health? He is already super overweight.

    • Avatar JSNSR says:

      Get him off of it and have him try to go two weeks with no sugar or artificial sweeteners. You lose the “sweet tooth” and it is much easier to control your appetite. I am convinced that sugar and artificial sweeteners kick start your appetite and make you eat too much.

    • Avatar sandra says:

      you are his mother so whos boss??

      • Avatar Nell says:

        In my opinion, it is extremely difficult to simply “control” the eating behaviour of one’s children. You will need to have a strategy. Of course, his age, disposition and personality will be big factors…and you may need some advice, both through your own research or through a doctor/dietician/nutritionist. You certainly need to help him eliminate diet Pepsi (or any other aspartame/acesulfame K, or artificially-sweetened drinks/foods), as soon as possible. Do your research, and start planning his meals and snacks with lots of lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, etc., and give him alternatives to junk food and soda. Usually, this means changing your own way of eating and shopping, and making sure there is lots of healthy food around. I really wish you the best, because is so incredibly important to help him NOW, to give him the chance at a healthy life.

      • Avatar Vicki C says:

        Do you really feel you are being helpful, Sandra?

      • Avatar Maddie S says:

        You feel you can just boil it down to “who is boss?” That doesn’t do anything besides make the person you THINK you’re the boss over go behind your back–and ultimately not confide in you because it’s all about rules and hierarchy, not compassion. Liberty4ev came from a different and more powerful perspective (and way more loving) which is, IMHO… the way to go. It drives me crazy when I hear friends or parents make remarks about “who is the boss in this relationship?” Of course I’m not condoning indifferent parents that don’t care or simply don’t take the time to guide their children. However, show me a mom (and/or dad) that has compassion, TRUST, unconditional love, acceptance, ALONG with guidance and persistence….and I will show you an adult child that has grown their own wings and knows how to use them.

    • Avatar sandy says:

      It is very hard to kick that diet drink, I know I use to CRAVE a diet coke EVERY morning (and several times during the day. I LOVED them! I found diluting it with water little by little helped me unitl I was drinking mostly water. I also limited myself to one drink during the day (it was an 8 oz diet coke, not a large one), I also lost 10 lbs because with my DIET drink I was eating junk food. It is very hard with kids. Does he drink caffeine free? I think the caffeine in the diet coke made me crave them so bad. How old is you son? Good Luck, keep at it!!

    • Avatar Liberty4ev says:

      Been there, and I definitely feel your pain, but my son was addicted to sugary sodas and “fun drinks”. Maybe what I did with my son could help you.

      I provided my son with healthful choices at home but as soon as he was out of sight, it was soda city, and lots of them. He spent most of his childhood with a weight problem (for which he was relentlessly teased).

      I did a multi-pronged approach. I can promise you that nagging won’t work!! I cut out sugar myself, and the positive results were hard to miss. I researched a lot, and talked to him about the negative effects of so much sugar and soda. The carbonation in sodas evidently contributes to weight gain as well. You can find plenty of research on the negatives of the sugar substitutes.

      All along, I repeatedly told him that I loved him NO MATTER WHAT he weighed–this wasn’t about weight! I told him that my concern was for his long-term health and the possibility of diabetes which affects every organ in one’s body (it runs in my family).

      Next, I issued a couple of challenges (boys usually like that!): just cut in half the number of sodas you drink per day; just cut out sodas for a day, a week, 2 weeks, whatever. When you eat out, get water instead of soda (and save $ too).

      At some point when he was about 16, he started cutting down on and cutting out sodas. He’s very active, so the weight literally fell off. I think he likes the way he looks (and probably feels too) now, so he’s self-motivated. Sure, he still loves a sweet tea and the occasional soda, but these days, he’s mostly carrying a jug of water.

  2. Avatar ACW says:

    If you have Netflix, watch the program called, Fed Up. Very interesting and explains why sugar is the enemy.

  3. Avatar M.J.C. says:

    Bottled Soda Water……..how much sugar in this?

  4. Avatar mary says:

    Curious as to how the body reacts to suit substitutes. Thank you I advance

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