Consuming just one sugar-sweetened beverage a day increases dangerous belly fat linked to heart disease and diabetes, according to a recent study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.
In 2009, the American Heart Association was the first to issue precise guidelines on consumption of added sugars. In this statement, experts advised that women consume no more than 100 calories a day of added sugars (about 6 teaspoons of sugar) and that men limit consumption to 150 calories a day (9 teaspoons). Since then, the American Heart Association has also recommended that adults limit consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to no more than 450 calories a week—the equivalent to about three 12-ounce cans of soda.
Why the guidelines? Time and time again, research continues to demonstrate the negative effects of sugary beverages on our health. Not only do sugar-sweetened beverages contribute to weight gain, they’ve been shown to increase risk for diabetes, heart disease and other chronic diseases. According to a recent study, sugary beverages may also promote growth of a dangerous belly fat.
Visceral fat is a type of fat that lies deep within the abdomen, surrounding the body’s organs. Research has linked this deep belly fat to heart disease, diabetes and other serious conditions.
To learn about the link between sugar-sweetened beverages and belly fat, researchers analyzed data from the Framingham’s Third Generation cohort. First initiated in 2002, this study followed more than 4,000 U.S. adults to learn about risk factors for heart disease. Among participants, roughly 1,000 had CT scans to assess both quality and quantity of body fat. CT scans were performed roughly six years apart and during the study, participants completed food questionnaires to assess their beverage consumption.
After analysis, researchers found that individuals consuming at least one sugar-sweetened beverage a day had a 27% greater increase in belly fat volume over six years compared to those not consuming sugary beverages. This association existed regardless of weight gain. Sugar sweetened beverages included soda, carbonated beverages with sugar, fruit punches, lemonade and other fruit drinks.
Interestingly, researchers also found that consumption of diet soda was not significantly associated with the quality or quantity of fat.
Findings contribute to a growing body of evidence about the negative health effects of sugar-sweetened beverages. As experts explain, limiting consumption of added sugars is a must. Through education and policy, experts hope to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and promote better health in children and adults.