Diabetes From Sweeteners?

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Here at Diabetes Flashpoints, we’ve discussed concerns that have been raised over both sugar and zero-calorie sweeteners. Sugar, in particular, has been implicated in chemical processes within the body that may lead to a higher risk of metabolic syndrome — the commonly seen combination of insulin resistance, hypertension, obesity, and abnormal blood lipid levels that increases a persons risk of Type 2 diabetes. But it turns out that high-fructose corn syrup and zero-calorie sweeteners may be even worse choices when it comes to the risk of developing Type 2.

The most recent study on the topic, published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examined correlations between intake of both sugar- and artificially sweetened beverages and development of Type 2 diabetes among more than 66,000 French women. Compared with women who did not regularly consume soft drinks, those in the top quarter of beverage consumption — the ones who drank more than 359 milliliters (about 12 ounces) of sugar-sweetened or more than 603 milliliters (about 20 ounces) of artificially sweetened beverages per week — had a significantly higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes during the study’s 14-year follow-up: 1.34 times higher for sugar-sweetened and 2.21 times higher for artificially sweetened beverages. Even among the 75% of participants who consumed soft drinks less frequently, there was a correlation between a higher level of consumption and development of diabetes. According to a Mail Online (UK) article on the study, drinking up to 500 milliliters (about 17 ounces) per week of artificially sweetened soft drinks resulted in a 15% increase in the risk of diabetes, while taking in more than 1.5 liters (about 51 ounces) per week resulted in a 60% increase in risk. In contrast, there was no correlation between fruit juice consumption and development of diabetes.

The evidence against high-fructose corn syrup in beverages is less substantial than that against either sugar or artificial sweeteners — after all, high-fructose corn syrup is chemically very similar to sugar, so studies often look at sugar- and high-fructose-corn-syrup-sweetened beverages together as one category. Nevertheless, according to an article published last week in the Los Angeles Times, the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest has filed a petition with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urging it to limit the amount of high-fructose corn syrup that can be put in beverages. The group claims that the associated risk of obesity makes high-fructose corn syrup unsafe for consumption at levels currently found in soft drinks. There is some evidence that high-fructose corn syrup may be worse than sugar when it comes to causing diabetes. As reported in a separate Los Angeles Times article, a study published last fall found that the average rate of Type 2 diabetes in countries with the highest levels of high-fructose corn syrup consumption was 8%, while the average rate in the countries with the lowest levels of consumption was 6.7% — even after accounting for differences in average body-mass index, population, and gross domestic product (GDP) between countries.

What do you think — does the evidence speak strongly against artificially sweetened beverages, or those containing high-fructose corn syrup? What kinds of sweetened beverages do you consume or avoid? If all sweetened beverages are bad for you, should it matter to the FDA that some might be worse than others? How much of a risk, and of what type, should an ingredient pose for it to be regulated or banned in food products? Leave a comment below!

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