Will the sugar in my drinks give me diabetes?

ST reader Serene Tan Lee Hua, troubled by the amount of soft drinks and bubble tea consumed here by young people, wrote to askST for advice. She wants to know the chances of getting diabetes if one consumes one to three cups of such drinks regularly, either daily or weekly, and whether eating more vegetables and doing more exercise will help prevent the onset of diabetes.Mind&Body Editor Ng Wan Ching answers.

The relationship between consuming sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks, and diabetes is complex.

It is thought that taking too much sugar can lead to obesity, which in turn is a major risk factor for developing diabetes, said Dr Stanley Liew, specialist in endocrinology and consultant at the Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre.

While studies have shown an association between the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and diabetes, the exact risk is not that well quantified, said Dr Liew.

A review of data in Western populations showed that if you were to take a sugary drink every day, you will be 18 per cent more likely to have diabetes in 10 years.

This risk may be greater in those with other risk factors for diabetes, such as a family history of the condition, sedentary lifestyle, obesity and age, said Dr Liew.

While there is no data on bubble tea, it is the quantity of sugar in the drinks that matters, he added.

Eating more vegetables is a favourable dietary habit, but its ability to lower diabetes risk is not well studied, he said.

However, regular exercise and a healthy diet have been shown to lower the risk of diabetes. For example, the Diabetes Prevention Programme in the US showed that modifying one's lifestyle can reduce the incidence of diabetes by 58 per cent after three years.

Ms Bibi Chia, the principal dietitian at the Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre, said that added sugar should contribute to no more than 10 per cent of dietary energy. This translates to approximately 40g to 55g or 8 to 11 tsp of sugar daily.

This limit includes sugar added to beverages as well as food such as cakes and candies.

For example, if you need 1,800kcal per day, you should limit your sugar intake to 45g per day.

Research has shown that drinking sugary drinks is linked to type 2 diabetes, and the American Diabetes Association recommends that people limit their intake of sugar-sweetened beverages to help prevent diabetes, said Ms Chia.

For a more detailed answer on how people with diabetes can balance their sugar and carbohydrate intake in their diets, read the online version of this answer at http://str.sg/4ZHS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2016, with the headline 'Will the sugar in my drinks give me diabetes?'. Print Edition | Subscribe