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Do Sugary Drinks Cause Weight Gain?

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You’ve been working hard in the gym and you’re nailing your diet – every food you eat is healthy, nutritious and low in calories.

So does it really hurt if you have a few sugary drinks here and there? Probably not. But when consumed in excess these drinks can have a disastrous effect on not only your health but your fat loss program and progress too.

In this article we’ll take a look at the consequences of drinking sugary beverages and give you the low-down on why you should avoid them.

What are Sugary Drinks?

In this article we’re primarily we’re referring to sugary soda. In reality though, this article could refer to any drink that is high in sugar:

Coffee and tea, hot chocolate, fruit drinks, vitamin infused waters, cocktails, sports drinks, iced lattes and milkshakes can all be laden with sugar.

You’d think that this is an obvious one to fix – just avoid anything that says the word ‘sugar’ in the ingredients and you’ll be fine right? Unfortunately not, as that word might not even appear in the list of ingredients – sometimes it’s hidden as an alternative on your drinks label.

Instead of ‘sugar’ you might see the following: dextrose, fructose, sucrose, corn syrup, glucose. All of these are simple carbohydrates – AKA sugar, and unfortunately there are many more ingredients like this.

High-sugar liquids are thought to be a contributor to a number of health-related illnesses such as diabetes, digestive issues and cardiovascular disease. Other symptoms such as tooth decay are also highly associated with soft drink consumption.

It is also associated with lower intakes of healthier drinks such as milk, that includes calcium and other nutrients [1].

After rapid growth since its introduction, consumption of soda is finally on the decrease with statistics suggesting that as of 2015, demand for carbonated beverages has fallen by 1.2% with consumption rates the lowest they’ve been since the 1980s [2].


Key Point: Sugary drinks are high in calories and often low in nutrients. Sugary ingredients you might find on a label include dextrose, fructose, sucrose, corn syrup, glucose.

What Do the Studies Say?

A good place to start here would be calories. You’ll often find 8 or more teaspoons of sugar in a can of soda – and at 4kcal per gram, the amount of calories soon adds up. For that reason there is a very clear association between soft drink intake and increased energy intake and body weight [1].

The problem with these types of drinks is that they do not trigger fullness like food does – the consequence of this is that you are much more likely to over-consume liquid carbs than solid ones. 

For example, a study by DiMeglio et al [3] found that when a group of female volunteers were asked to consume 450kcal of soda on top of their normal diet they did not compensate by eating less food – this led to a 17% increase in energy intake per day. 

Interestingly though, when the women were asked to eat 450kcal of carbohydrate instead of drink them, they did compensate and energy intake evened themselves out.

There are an unsurprising number of studies that show the relationship between sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain. Many researchers feel that soda consumption is a key contributor to the epidemic of overweight and obesity [4].

For example, a study by Schulze [5] and colleagues in JAMA found that soda consumption was highly related to weight gain as well as the development of type 2 diabetes. They tracked 91, 249 women between 1991 and 1999 and found that weight gain over a 4-year period was highest among women who increased their sugar-sweetened soft drink consumption from 1 or fewer drinks per week to 1 or more drinks per day. 

Additionally, they also reported that those who consumed 1 or more soft drinks per day had a significantly higher relative risk of type 2 diabetes, and that increased consumption of fruit punch was also associated with greater weight gain.

These results were echoed by Bray et al [6] who reported that a specific sugar called high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contribute to increased energy intake and weight gain, and that since 1970, its use in drinks has gone up by 1000%. They suggested that Americans could be ingesting as much as 316 kcal from HFCS per day.

Found in a range of drinks such as fruit punches, juice boxes, chocolate milk and sports drinks, this type of sugar has drastic implication on fat storage when consumed in large amounts. Its digestion, absorption, and metabolism doesn’t allow it to be metabolized like other sugars – it travels straight to your liver where it is stored as fat. This can lead to weight gain, particularly around the middle, and an increased risk of fatty liver disease.

A small study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation [7] found that when volunteers were given equal amounts (25% of total calories) of HFCS or glucose over a 10-week period, the fructose groups’ body fat went up by 8.6% for total fat and 14% for belly fat. 

Not only that, the group also found an increase in cholesterol, higher blood sugar and decreased insulin sensitivity. 


Key Points:

  1. Liquid sugar won’t fill you up like sugary food would.
  2. Sugary drinks will not only make you fat, they will also negatively impact your health.

Summary – Does Soda Make You Fat?

Soda, fruit drinks, vitamin infused waters, cocktails, sports drinks, iced lattes and milkshakes can all be laden with sugar. They are often blamed for contributing toward a number of metabolic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, digestive illness and cardiovascular disease.

Sugar can be found in many forms in sugary beverages – dextrose, fructose, sucrose, corn syrup, glucose are just a few added ingredients used to sweeten drinks. All of these are simple carbohydrates with little to no nutrient value.

Research suggests that soda and other sweet beverages increase weight gain by increasing daily energy intake. Drinks do not fill you up like food does meaning that you are much more likely to over-consume calories.

One ingredient in particular – high fructose corn syrup – has been found to have a drastic effect on fat storage around your belly. It cannot be metabolized like other sugars, and travels directly to the liver where it is stored as fat. This increases the risk of diabetes, fatty liver disease and other risk factors of cardiovascular disease.


  1. Vartanian, LR et al. Effects of Soft Drink Consumption on Nutrition and Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Am J Public Health. 2007; 97(4): 667–675
  2. Beverage Digest. March 26, 2015:
  3. DiMeglio, DP et al. Liquid versus solid carbohydrate: effects on food intake and body weight. 
    Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2000; 24(6): 794-800
  4.  Malik, V et al. Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006; 84(2): 274-288
  5. Schulze, MB et al. Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, Weight Gain, and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in Young and Middle-Aged Women. JAMA. 2004; 292(8)
  6. Bray, GA et al. Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004; 79(4): 537-543
  7. Stanhope, KL et al. Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans. J Clin Invest 2009