Adults who drink excessive amounts of added sugar may have an increased risk of dying from coronary heart disease, a new study has found.
For about six years, researchers from Emory University and other institutions tracked 17,930 adults over the age of 45 and found a link between drinking sweetened drinks – like soft drinks or fruit drinks – and death from heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions.
Those who drank around 680 grams of sugar or more daily had twice the risk of death from heart disease compared to those who drank less than about 28 grams, the study presented at an American Heart Association meeting found.
Researchers found no link between eating sugary foods and an increased risk of death from cardiovascular diseases.
Peter Brukner, professor of sports medicine at La Trobe University and convenor of Sugar by Heart – a campaign to reduce the amount of added sugar intake – said people consume a significantly greater amount of sugar in drinks than in processed foods.
He said unlike sweetened foods, most sugary drinks do not contain the appropriate nutrients that work to slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.
“If you have just a small bottle of Coke, you are having something like 11 teaspoons of sugar and you could have a number of those,” Professor Brukner said.
“To have that amount of sugar in foods is much, much harder.
“If you’ve got sugar in the form of carbohydrates in food, it can be broken down a bit more slowly and … it’s not as dangerous.”
The World Health Organisation recommends adults consume no more than six teaspoons (or 25 grams) of sugar daily.
That is equivalent to half a can of Coke a day “assuming you don’t have any other added amounts of sugar”, Professor Brukner said.
“Some teenagers are drinking huge amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages resulting in 30, 40 teaspoons of sugar a day.
“It’s easy to get if you have three of four Cokes a day.”
He said the safest option is to ween off “this addiction we have to sweetness and to sugar”.
“They really have no nutritional value, they’re empty in calories and they lead to significant health problems.”
Richard Harper, adjunct professor of medicine and interim director of MonashHeart at Monash Medical Centre, said this study did not prove sugary drinks caused heart disease, but simply showed an association between the two.
Professor Harper said it was clear from previous research that excessive consumption of sugary drinks is “definitely dangerous”.
“It should be kept to two or three drinks a week rather than two or three drinks a day.”
He said the study emphasised the importance of a healthy balanced diet which doesn’t include sugary drinks.
Ultimately, the “best fluid to drink is water”, he said.