Added sugar is unhealthy when consumed in excess. However, liquid sugar may be especially harmful.
Research shows that getting sugar in liquid form is much worse than getting it from solid food. This is why high sugar beverages like soda are among the worst things you can put into your body.
What is liquid sugar?
Liquid sugar is the sugar you consume in liquid form from beverages like sugar sweetened soda. The sugar in beverages is often highly concentrated and easy to consume in large amounts without feeling full.
Some examples of these drinks are fairly obvious, such as sodas and fruit punch. However, many other beverages are high in sugar as well.
For instance, although fruit juice is typically considered a healthier option, even varieties without added sugar can be as high in sugar and calories as sweetened drinks — sometimes even higher.
Here are the calorie and sugar contents in 12 ounces (355 mL) of some popular high sugar beverages:
- Soda: 151 calories and 39 grams of sugar
- Sweetened iced tea: 144 calories and 35 grams of sugar
- Unsweetened orange juice: 175 calories and 33 grams of sugar
- Unsweetened grape juice: 228 calories and 54 grams of sugar
- Fruit punch: 175 calories and 42 grams of sugar
- Lemonade: 149 calories and 37 grams of sugar
- Sports beverage: 118 calories and 22 grams of sugar
Liquid sugar is different than solid sugar
A major problem with liquid sugar calories is that your brain doesn’t register them like it does the calories from solid food.
Studies show that drinking calories doesn’t elicit the same fullness signals as eating them. As a result, you don’t compensate by eating less of other foods later on.
In one study, people who ate 450 calories in the form of jellybeans ended up eating less later. When they drank 450 calories of soda, they ended up eating many more total calories later in the day. Solid and liquid forms of fruit affect hunger levels differently as well.
In a 6-day study, people consumed a whole apple, applesauce, or apple juice. Whether drunk as a meal or snack, apple juice was shown to be the least filling while whole fruit satisfied appetite the most.
Drinking sugary drinks and weight gain
Frequently consuming sugar may promote excessive calorie intake and weight gain. This may be because it generally contains a high amount of fructose, which is unhealthy when consumed in large amounts.
For example, table sugar contains 50% glucose and 50% fructose, while high fructose corn syrup contains about 45% glucose and 55% fructose. Research shows that both affect appetite and calorie intake the same way.
A researcher in a recent review also pointed out that all fructose-containing sugars — including honey, agave nectar and fruit juice — have the same potential for causing weight gain.
What’s more, several studies link excess fructose to weight gain. A high intake seems to promote belly fat, which increases disease risk.
Sodas and other sweet drinks make it easy to consume large doses of sugar and fructose in a very short period of time. As stated above, these calories aren’t adequately compensated for later in the day.
However, even when calorie intake is controlled, a high intake of liquid sugars may lead to an increase in body fat.
In a 10-week study, people with overweight and obesity consumed 25% of calories as fructose-sweetened beverages at a calorie level that should have maintained their weight. Instead, insulin sensitivity decreased and belly fat increased.
Although lack of compliance could explain these results, some evidence suggests high fructose intake reduces energy expenditure. A separate analysis found that fat burning and metabolic rate decreased in those who followed this fructose-rich diet for 10 weeks.
Liquid sugar and blood sugar levels
In addition to promoting weight gain, liquid sugar calories can lead to elevated blood sugar levels and insulin resistance. Several studies link a high fructose intake to a decrease in insulin sensitivity and increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Sugary beverages seem to further increase this risk by delivering a large amount of fructose in a short amount of time.
In a detailed analysis of 11 studies in over 300,000 people, those consuming 1–2 sugar-sweetened beverages per day were 26% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who drank 1 or fewer sweetened beverages per month.
In addition to insulin resistance and diabetes, frequent sugary beverage intake is linked to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). When you consume more fructose than your liver can store as glycogen, the extra fructose is converted into fat. Part of this fat get stored in your liver, which may drive inflammation, insulin resistance, and fatty liver disease.
Unfortunately, insulin resistance and other health problems related to a high intake of liquid sugars often start as early as childhood and adolescence.