Sugar has been courting all the headlines of late. So much so that today the Government is introducing the Sugar Tax.
Announced by Chancellor Philip Hammond in his budget statement in 2017, the idea is to tax drinks companies according to how much sugar is in their products.
The hope is that paying more for drinks will act as a deterrent for the sugar-laden drinks and ultimately balance out the impact of obesity on the NHS.
No doubt there will be a few grumblings about the new tax from those who are partial to a fizzy pop or two – as well as the costs of drinks shooting up by around 8p a can and 18p a litre, prices will also rise in pubs and restaurants.
While it’s no secret that fizzy drinks aren’t great for you, like many other guilty pleasures (see also: Haribos, Porn Star Martinis and Maccy Ds), it doesn’t always stop us from reaching for them.
But it’s unlikely fizz fans are aware of the true impact consuming sugary drinks can have on their body.
“We all know that carbonated or fizzy drinks should be avoided and the arguments are certainly not lacking,” explains Doctify Nutritionist Dr Claudia Gravaghi.
“This type of drinks are concentrated in simple sugars that do not bring any nutrients to the body which in the long run can lead to health problems and weight gain.”
With that in mind we asked the sugar experts to reveal what really happens to your body when you consume a soft drink laden with the sweet stuff.
It won’t come as a surprise to hear that high-sugar content of fizzy drinks can have some pretty negative effects on our pearly whites.
“Fizzy drinks or any drink with a high sugar content, including sports and energy drinks are particularly bad for your teeth,” explains Dr Mervyn Druian co founder of The London Centre for Cosmetic Dentistry. “Not only do they have a high sugar content which feeds the bacteria that causes tooth decay, but they are highly acidic and the acid attacks your teeth and erodes the enamel.”
And children are at particular risk. “A child in England has a tooth removed in hospital every 10 minutes due to preventable decay,” Dr Druian adds.
When it comes to shifting the pounds, fizzy drinks are not your friend.
“Fructose, when consumed, is almost exclusively directed to the liver where it is processed,” explains Dr Abbi Lulsegged, consultant endoscrinologist and diabetes specialist at BMI The Sloane, Blackheath, Chelsfield Park and Chaucer hospitals in Kent.
“In relatively large quantities, it is changed to an intermediary that is eventually converted to fat. This fat accumulates in the liver and the organs around the liver contributing to an expanding waistline.”
And Dr Daniel Bailey, Senior Lecturer in Health, Nutrition and Exercise at the University of Bedfordshire says that those who regularly consume fizzy drinks are at an increased risk of obesity.
“Although we need calories for our body to function, the extra calories from added sugar in fizzy drinks that are not used for energy by the body are likely to be stored as fat,” he explains.
Your addiction levels
Can’t get through the day without your can of pop? Science says it’s not your fault.
“The ‘pleasurable’ aspect of consuming products containing fructose is mediated by the reward centre in the brain via a neurotransmitter called dopamine,” explains Dr Lulsegged.
He says that consuming sugar results in an increased release of dopamine, much in the same way, but perhaps to a lesser extent than consuming cocaine or heroin.
“Repeated exposure to sugar makes the interaction of dopamine with its receptor less effective. This unfortunately means the individual needs more of the product to get the same sense of “pleasure” promoting addiction.”
You might think you feel full after downing a can of the fizzy stuff, but it’s actually your body’s sneaky way of tricking you.
“Fructose, unlike some foods, does not stimulate release of the hormone that signals fullness, nor does it suppress the hunger hormone,” Dr Lulsegged explains. “In theory, consumption of fructose can lead to greater intake of calories.”
Your blood sugar levels
According to Dr Bailey, fizzy drinks also increase blood sugar levels as they contain added sugar.
“The pancreas then has to release more insulin into the blood to help bring the sugar levels back down, and if this is repeated several times each day over weeks, months and years, it can lead to the development of diabetes.”
What’s more, if the body experiences these repeated rises in blood sugar following consumption of drinks that contain high amounts of sugar, this can change in the health of our blood vessels and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Your mental health
We know that sugary drinks aren’t great for our physical health, but did you realise they can also impact our mental health?
“The consumption of carbonated drinks in addition to the long-term effects that we know well can bring our mood and our body to a condition of ups and downs due to excess and the consequent lack of sugar and energy,” explains Dr Claudia Gravaghi
“Fructose unfavourably alters the composition of the good bacteria in the gut (gut microbiota) leading to an imbalance of good and bad bacteria,” explains Dr Lulsegged.
“This imbalance is associated with an erosion of the protective lining of the gut promoting inflammation. This contributes to insulin resistance, driving independently, processes such as inflammation of the liver and diseases associated with this such as diabetes.”
“Increases in liver fat coupled with other harmful effects of fructose on the liver leads makes insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar, work inefficiently,” explains Dr Lulsegged. “The cells that make insulin have to compensate to overcome this ‘insulin resistance’ by releasing even more insulin.”
This isn’t a good thing, as extra insulin means excess sugars are converted to fats and stored around the abdominal organs.
“This process is known as insulin resistance,” he explains. “Insulin resistance is associated with a number of hazardous conditions including but not limited to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease such as strokes and heart attacks, high blood pressure, inflammation of the Liver, cancer and dementia.”
Timeline of what a fizzy drink does to your body
First 0-10 minutes
“An avalanche of sugar hits the tongue, a carbonated beverage can contain up to 12 teaspoons of sugar,” explains Dr Claudia Gravaghi.
“As a rule so much sugar would bother, but thanks to the phosphoric acid we do not notice it. If you regularly consume this type of beverage, such intense sugar levels become the norm. We easily get addicted to sugar and its effect on our energy levels.”
“Carbonated drinks quickly pass into the stomach and intestines,” Dr Gravaghi continues. “Unlike solid foods that contain fats, proteins and fibres that take time to be digested, the body does not work hard to process sweet drinks because of the simple sugars they are rich in. So the sugar get absorbed very quickly ‘sugar rush!'”
“This is the moment when you feel more energetic, blood sugar levels have suddenly risen and do not seem to want to go down. In addition the caffeine contained in some of the drinks prevents us from feeling the sense of tiredness,” Dr Gravaghi explains.
“The high blood sugar levels alarm the pancreas, which releases a large amount of insulin at once in order to bring them back to normal values,” Dr Gravaghi explains. “Meanwhile, caffeine stimulates the bladder and soon we will definitely have to visit the bathroom.”
“Blood sugar levels suddenly collapse due to a large amount of insulin and sugars are used by cells to produce energy (if we are moving) or converted into fat (if we are at rest),” says Dr Gravaghi. “This is the stage where you start feeling tired because of the sudden drop in sugar and the effect of the caffeine that is fading. Often this is the moment when you feel the need for more sugar and other caffeine in order to restart the process.”
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