How Does Liquid Sugar Harm Your Body?
Written by Franziska Spritzler — Medically reviewed by Atli Arnarson BSc, PhD — Updated on January 27, 2020
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.
This article explains how liquid sugar affects your weight, blood sugar, and risk of heart disease — and tells you what to consume instead.
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.
What’s more, a high intake of fruit juice may lead to the same health problems as drinking sugar sweetened beverages (1Trusted Source).
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 (2Trusted Source)
- Sweetened iced tea: 144 calories and 35 grams of sugar (3Trusted Source)
- Unsweetened orange juice: 175 calories and 33 grams of sugar (4Trusted Source)
- Unsweetened grape juice: 228 calories and 54 grams of sugar (5Trusted Source)
- Fruit punch: 175 calories and 42 grams of sugar (6Trusted Source)
- Lemonade: 149 calories and 37 grams of sugar (7Trusted Source)
- Sports beverage: 118 calories and 22 grams of sugar (8Trusted Source)
Sweet beverages, including unsweetened fruit juice, are high in calories from sugar. Frequently consuming liquid sugar calories may increase your risk of health problems.
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 (9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source).
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 (9Trusted Source).
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 (10Trusted Source).
Research shows that your body doesn’t register liquid sugar in the same way as it does solid sugar. This can cause greater appetite and calorie intake later on.
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 (11Trusted Source).
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 (12Trusted Source).
What’s more, several studies link excess fructose to weight gain. A high intake seems to promote belly fat, which increases disease risk (13Trusted Source, 14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source, 16Trusted Source).
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 (15Trusted Source).
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 (16Trusted Source).
Several studies have linked liquid sugar calories to weight gain, which may be due to the effects of sugar and fructose on appetite and fat storage.
In addition to promoting weight gain, liquid sugar calories can lead to elevated blood sugar levels and insulin resistance.
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 (19Trusted Source).
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 (20Trusted Source, 21Trusted Source).
Drinking a lot of liquid sugar may lead to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and fatty liver disease.
Liquid sugars also have negative effects on heart health.
Some studies indicate that a high intake of fructose raises your levels of triglycerides and other fat molecules in your bloodstream. High amounts of these fats in your blood increase heart disease risk (13Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source, 24Trusted Source, 25Trusted Source).
What’s more, this doesn’t occur exclusively in people who are insulin resistant, have obesity, or have diabetes.
One 2-week study reported that several heart health markers worsened in both young men with overweight and moderate weight who drank large amounts of beverages sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (25Trusted Source).
Another study in healthy adults found that even small to moderate doses of sugar sweetened beverages led to unhealthy changes in particle size of LDL (bad) cholesterol and an increase in the inflammatory marker CRP (26Trusted Source).
Liquid sugars may be particularly harmful to people who are already insulin resistant or who have overweight.
In the 10-week study that provided 25% of calories as high fructose beverages, people with overweight and obesity experienced increases in small, dense LDL particles and oxidized cholesterol. These are considered major heart disease risk factors (15Trusted Source).
Consuming liquid sugar calories may lead to inflammation, high blood triglycerides, and changes in LDL (bad) cholesterol that increase heart disease risk.
The more sugar sweetened beverages you drink, the greater your risk of health problems.
In a study that provided between 0–25% of calories from sugar sweetened beverages, those in the 25% group had a greater increase in disease risk factors than the 10% group (25Trusted Source).
Only the 0% group experienced no negative effects (25Trusted Source).
Another study found that consuming 6.5% of calories as sugar sweetened beverages for 3 weeks negatively affected health markers and body composition in healthy men (26Trusted Source).
On a 2,200-calorie diet, this would be about 143 calories — or 1 soda per day.
The amount of liquid sugar that can be consumed without causing health problems varies from person to person. However, limiting fruit juice to 2 ounces (60 mL) per day and completely avoiding other beverages with added sugars is your best option.
A high intake of liquid sugar is bad for your health. Limit your fruit juice consumption to 2 ounces (60 mL) per day and avoid beverages with added sugar.
Plain water is the healthiest beverage you can drink. However, alternating plain water with beverages that provide a little flavor is more realistic for many people.
Here are a few healthy alternatives to sugar sweetened beverages and fruit juice:
- plain or sparkling water with a slice of lemon or lime
- iced black or green tea with lemon
- iced herbal tea
- hot or iced coffee with milk or cream
Most of these beverages are delicious without any added sweetener.
However, if you’re transitioning from sugar-sweetened beverages, you may find it helpful to use one of these natural sweeteners.
Overall, there are many healthy and delicious alternatives to sugary beverages.
Plain water is the best choice for your health. Other substitutes for soda and sugary beverages include coffee and tea.
Liquid sugar is the sugar that’s contained in any sweet beverage, such as soda, juice, or energy drinks.
Because it doesn’t make you full, it’s prone to have a host of negative effects on your body.
In fact, it’s strongly linked to weight gain, high blood sugar, and heart disease risk. As such, it’s best to limit your intake and drink beverages like plain water, coffee, or tea instead.
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