Sugar-sweetened beverages are now clearly linked with weight gain. Cutting back on these types of drinks is a cornerstone of dietary advice. Nutrition scientists have now found that when sugar-sweetened drinks are replaced with water, there is a clear benefit in less long-term weight gain.
Drinking too many drinks high in sugar is plainly not a good thing to do if someone was concerned about their weight. But is it better to cut these drinks out altogether, or is someone better off taking the extra step and replacing them water?
Short-term studies have found that drinking water before a meal results in lower energy intake over the course of a day compared to having a sugar-sweetened drink before a meal. Two studies of 12 weeks and 1 year duration also found that replacing sugar-sweetened drinks with water can lead to greater water loss. What is unknown is how making the switch to water can affect body weight over several years.
Using diet and health records from three long-running observational studies, researchers in the United States looked at 4-yearly body weight changes and how this was linked to changes in beverage choices over the same time interval.
After a lot of heavy duty statistical analysis, the benefits of switching to water were clear. For every serving of sugar-sweetened beverage replaced with a cup of water each day, 0.49 fewer kilograms were gained over the 4-year period.
It wasn’t just cutting back on sugar-sweetened drinks that gave a benefit. Replacing fruit juice with water was linked with 0.35 fewer kilograms gained. Yes, fruit juice has some health benefits that sugar-sweetened drinks don’t have, but it still contains a similar amount of sugar.
Replacing sugar-sweetened drinks or fruit juice with coffee, tea, diet beverages, and milk were all linked with less weight gain. Water though was the clear winner.
Swapping sugar-sweetened drinks with water could have a double benefit. Not only are fewer kilojoules consumed when sugar-sweetened drinks are cut out, but replacing them with water can help increase feelings of fullness from stretching of the stomach.
What it all means
What makes this study novel is that it is one of the few that has looked at how replacing one type of beverage with another could affect body weight over the long term. It makes perfect sense that drinking less soft drink and fruit juice and replacing them with water will be a better health choice. Now there is some solid science to support this change as a long-term lifestyle change to make.