Swapping Out One Sugary Drink Daily Can Cut Diabetes Risk

Replacing the daily consumption of one serving of a sugary drink with water, tea or coffee can decrease risk for diabetes by 14% to 25%.

Replacing one serving of a sugary drink with water, unsweetened tea or coffee daily can decrease the risk for developing diabetes by up to 25%, according to a study published in Diabetologia.

Specifically, researchers found that substituting a serving of water or unsweetened tea or coffee for a serving of soft drinks could reduce the risk for diabetes by 14%. Additionally, replacing a serving of sweetened milk beverage with water or unsweetened tea or coffee could cut the risk by 20% to 25%.

Drinking artificially sweetened beverages, however, in place of sugar-sweetened ones were not linked to a statistically significant decrease in type 2 diabetes after accounting for baseline obesity and total energy intake, the data indicated.

Other results showed that, in adjusted models, one 12-oz daily increment in sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened soft drink consumption was associated with a 22% (HR=1.22; 95% CI, 1.09-1.38) and a 52% (HR=1.52; 95% CI, 1.26-1.83) increased risk for type 2 diabetes, respectively.

The relationship between sugar-sweetened soft drinks and type 2 diabetes was somewhat attenuated but remained significant even after further adjustment for energy intake and BMI (HR=1.18; 95% CI, 1.06-1.32). The association with artificially-sweetened soft drinks, however, was not significant after adjustment for these factors (HR=1.11; 95% CI, 0.95-1.31).

Estimates also indicated that reducing the energy intake from sweetened beverages to less than 10%, 5% or 2% of total daily energy could prevent 3%, 7% or 15% of new-onset diabetes cases, respectively.

“The good news is that our study provides evidence that replacing a daily serving of a sugary soft drink or sugary milk drink with water or unsweetened tea or coffee can help to cut the risk of diabetes, offering practical suggestions for healthy alternative drinks for the prevention of diabetes,” study researcher Nita Forouhi, MRCP, PhD, FFPHM, of the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, said in a press release.

Study Breakdown

For this case-cohort study Forouhi and colleagues evaluated 12,403 incident type 2 diabetes cases and a stratified subcohort of 16,154 participants selected from eight European cohorts participating in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Norfolk study. A total of 11,684 incident cases and a subcohort of 15,374 participants were included in the final analyses.

Participants were aged 40 to 79 years and lived in Norfolk, United Kingdom. They recorded everything that they ate and drank for 7 consecutive days, including weekdays and weekend days, paying close attention to type, amount and frequency of consumption, as well as whether participants added sugar.

Follow-up lasted about 11 years, with 847 participants being diagnosed with new-onset type 2 diabetes during this time.

“By using this detailed dietary assessment with a food diary, we were able to study several different types of sugary beverages, including sugar-sweetened soft drinks, sweetened tea or coffee and sweetened milk drinks as well as artificially sweetened beverages and fruit juice, and to examine what would happen if water, unsweetened tea or coffee or artificially sweetened beverages were substituted for sugary drinks,” Forouhi said.

Final Thoughts

Although the researchers recognize the limitations of dietary research that is primarily based on self-report, they noted that the large sample size and long follow-up with detailed assessment of diet collected in real-time rather than relying on memory were strengths.

“Our new findings on the potential to reduce the burden of diabetes by reducing the percentage of energy consumed from sweet beverages add further important evidence to the recommendation from the World Health Organization to limit the intake of free sugars in our diet,” Forouhi concluded.


  1. InterAct Consortium. Diabetologia. 2015;doi:10.1007/s00125-013-2899-8.