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According to the American Heart Association, Americans take in an annual average of 27 kilograms (50 pounds) of sugar, where almost half of this comes from drinks.
But there is some good news. According to a meta-analysis published in JAMA Network Open on Monday, drinks sweetened using low- or no-calorie sweeteners (shortened to “LNCSB” by nutrition professionals) may mitigate diabetes risk.
Researchers found associations between LNCSBs and slight reductions in weight and cardiometabolic risk factors.
“Universally, everyone is recommending a reduction of sugar,” said senior study author Dr. John Sievenpiper. “Now the next question is: What’s the best way to replace it?
“Some beverages will give you that intended benefit and in a way that’s similar to what you would expect from water,” said Sievenpiper, consultant physician at St. Michael’s Hospital and associate professor in the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto.
The study was “set up well” and that it adds evidence “that in the moderate term LNCSBs are a viable alternative to water for those with overweight or obesity,” but more evidence is needed to know the long-term impact, wrote Julie Grim, director of nutrition for the American Diabetes Association, in an email. Grim is not part of the study.
Sievenpiper said that the goal is still to drink water as often as possible, but the results may be good for people wanting to manage weight or diabetes risk.
“You know that you’ve got a choice, and I think that’s important for a lot of people that they have that,” he added.
While the meta-analysis may provide a positive outlook for drink choices for people with weight and diabetes concerns, there has been a long debate over alternative sweeteners and overall health.
Results of a 2019 study showed that drinking two or more artificially sweetened drinks a day is tied to an increased risk of clot-based strokes, heart attacks, and early death in women over 50.
Another study in 2020 revealed that diet soda might be just as bad for a person’s heart as regular soda.
Danielle Smotkin, a spokesperson for American Beverage Association, said that this is despite artificial sweeteners being regarded as safe by regulatory bodies.
The American Beverage Association is a US trade association representing the nonalcoholic beverage industry.
However, Grim said that the 2020 study did not identify increased risk factors. It also could not account for long long-term impacts and could not identify if one low- or no-calorie sweetened drink was more effective than the other.
While experts say that water is best, it can be hard to go cold turkey on sweet drinks, says CNN nutrition contributor and registered dietician Lisa Drayer.
“Cut back by one serving per day until you’re down to one drink per day,” Drayer told CNN in a prior interview. “Then aim for one every other day until you can phase out soft drinks entirely.”
She recommended sparkling water, infusing fruit, and a two-week no sugar challenge to help curb cravings.
A person’s taste buds will adjust to find “natural foods with sugar more satisfying,” she said.