Not all calories are created equal. Recent research reveals that some of them — most notably sugar-sweetened drinks — raise the risk of obesity and other metabolic diseases.
Nearly two dozen nutrition researchers posed a challenging question: Are all calories the same when it comes to weight gain and cardiometabolic disease? To answer that, they did an extensive review of the existing nutritional research on diets that can lead to Type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Their findings were published in the journal Obesity Reviews.
This is what they concluded: Sugar-sweetened drinks and saturated acids specific to certain foods have mechanisms that promote cardiometabolic disease. The evidence strongly suggests that drinks sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup increase the risk of cardiometabolic disease compared with a calorically similar amount of starch. In other words, it’s not just the total number of calories that count — it’s what kind of calories, too.
Because the food-body interaction is so complex, more research is needed to fully understand the effects of sugar-sweetened beverages compared with the sugar found in solid food, refined grains and whole grains.
The researchers also reached a conclusion about the artificial sweetener aspartame, the sweetener typically sold with the NutraSweet and Equal brand names. Randomized controlled trials ranging from four weeks to three years demonstrated that aspartame plays no role in weight gain among adults.
More broadly, they said the findings should be used to promote better food policies — especially ones that improve access to and reduce the cost of healthy food.