Sugary Drinks Linked to Obesity and Genetics

You ride more than four times a week, but still you have that stubborn layer of fat that you just can’t get rid of. The culprit might be your sugary nutrition drink.

A new study by the Harvard School of Public Health shows that not only do sugary drinks cause obesity, but over time, they cause a genetic predisposition to obesity.

It could be a concern for cyclists because many of their races and work out days include at least two water-bottle sizes of drinks, one of them almost invariably containing sugar.

The issue has been an ongoing debate in New York City, since Mayor Michael Bloomberg passed legislation banning the sale of 16-ounce and larger sugary drinks and sodas.

And it’s not just the 16-ounce variety that will cause problems, it’s ALL-sized sugary drinks, according to the Harvard study released in September.

Does that mean your energy drinks are included? Yup they are.

“Our study for the first time provides reproducible evidence from three prospective cohorts to show genetic and dietary factors—sugar-sweetened beverages—may mutually influence their effects on body weight and obesity risk,” said Lu Qi, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at the school and senior author of the study.

In the past 30 years, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, or SSB’s has risen dramatically.

And although widespread evidence supports a link between SSBs, obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes, there has been little research on whether environmental factors, such as drinking sugary beverages, influence genetic predisposition to obesity, said the researchers.

The study followed over 121,000 women and 51,000 men to determine whether the amount of times per week and month they consumed sugary drinks had an effect on their genetic predisposition to obesity.

The results showed that the genetic effects on BMI and obesity risk among those who drank one or more SSBs per day were about twice as large as those who consumed less than one serving per month.

The findings suggest that regular consumption of sugary beverages may amplify the genetic risk of obesity.

In addition, individuals with greater genetic predisposition to obesity appear to be more susceptible to harmful effects of SSBs on Body Mass Index, or BMI, said the researchers.

“The implication of our study is that the genetic effects of obesity can be offset by healthier food and beverage choices,” said Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at HSPH and study co-author.

Does that mean sports drinks are out? Well, if you really care about nutrition, they might be.

To get an idea of how your sports drink stacks up with other drinks and alternatives, check this chart here from the Sugary Drinks Facts site.

To check the sugar content of bottled fruit juice and fruit juice combo drinks, check this chart. If you do a sugar content comparison, you will find that the Nutrition Sports drinks such as the Gatorade G-Series Perform have the lowest sugar content. Flavored waters also have a lower sugar content.

However, both flavored waters and nutrition drinks provide simple sugars that are absorbed quickly and need no conversion to sucrose.

As a rule, both compare poorly to a complex, low-sugar content fruit juice in fructose form such as grapefruit juice that convert to sucrose much more slowly, providing more energy and less simple sugars to the blood stream.

The sports drinks such as Gatorade G2 that contain artificial sweeteners, pose other concerns such as the safety of drinking unnatural substances.

What is a better alternative? Eat apples and other fruits with low sugar content, and drink water for replenishment of fluids. Nuts, and other grains are also a good source of energy, and reduced the body’s dependence on instant sugars for energy.

Another option is to choose juices such as grapefruit juice, and mix it with naturally sparkling water. Or stick to some of the lower sugar-content drinks available on the market.