Sweet Drinks May Increase Your Risk for Heart Failure

Before you reach for your next afternoon pick-me-up, whether it be a Coke, Iced Tea or Starbucks Frappuccino, you might want to think twice about what you’re putting in your body and how it’s affecting your health.  After all, as the old saying goes: you are what you eat (and drink!).

Drinks are notorious for their empty calories – calories from solid fats and/or added sugars that provide no nutritional benefit. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, an average can of soda or drink has 10 teaspoons of sugar.  This means one drink alone may contain more added sugars than the American Heart Association’s recommended daily intake limit of 5 teaspoons for females, and 9 teaspoons for males.

The effects of sugar consumption on health problems such as Type 2 Diabetes, stroke and obesity have been researched extensively in the past, but a new study has associated excess sugar consumption with the state of our heart health.

Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm found that Swedish men who consumed two or more servings of sweet drinks per day had a 23% higher chance of developing heart failure, as compared to non-consumers.

Heart failure results when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to support the body and our daily functions.  There are over 23 million heart failure cases worldwide, and about 5.8 million Americans suffer from this condition.  Heart failure is known to be more prevalent among males and the elderly, and only half of those patients diagnosed with heart failure survive after five years.

In this observational study, the health of 42,400 Swedish men, aged 45-79, was tracked from 1998 to 2010.  Their sweetened beverage consumption, with the exception of juice, coffee and tea, was measured and recorded by answering the following question: “How many soft drinks or sweetened juice drinks do you drink per day or per week?”

Over 12 years, Dr. Larsson and her team found 3,604 new cases of heart failure, and 509 deaths due to the condition.  They noticed a positive association between sweet drink consumption and risk of heart failure.

Although this study reports that consumption of sweetened beverages may increase men’s risk of developing heart failure by 23%, Dr. Christopher O’Connor, director of Duke University School of Medicine’s Heart Center, believes the real effect may be even greater.  Because sweetened beverage consumption was measured using a self-reporting questionnaire, which relies on memory and honesty, coupled with the fact that men in Sweden are typically more physically active and weigh less than American men, O’Connor believes that the association between sugary drinks and heart health is most likely greater in the United States, making the effect “larger and faster here.”

So, if you still need that afternoon pick-me-up, but water just won’t do,  here are some healthy alternatives that will give you that boost of energy, while keeping your heart happy:

Fruit-infused water.  Fruit is nature’s candy.  Step up your water game by adding slices of fruits and veggies.  Here are some of our favorite combos: cucumber and mint, lemon, strawberries and blueberries.

Sparkling water.  Craving something fizzy?  Ditch the soda and choose sparkling water instead.  Bonus points if you choose natural flavoring (see above).

Fresh juices.  Not only is this a sneaky way to sneak in extra fruits and vegetables, but the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals from fresh produce also provide a great energy boost.  Just make sure to choose those with no added sweeteners!

Unsweetened flavored teas.  Swap out energy drinks for flavored teas.  This is a sure-fire way to get your caffeine fix.

Coconut water. If you still find yourself needing something sweet, consider choosing coconut water.  A great alternative to traditional sports drinks, coconut water keeps you well-hydrated, is high in potassium and helps reduce your body’s sodium levels.  Best of all?  It tastes great!

Learn more about how sugary drinks may increase risk for heart failure in the original post.