The Grapevine

Some Calories Worse Than Others: Study Highlights Danger Of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

Many of us think about the number of calories we consume on a daily basis. But quantity aside, could certain calories be more harmful than others?

A group of 22 nutrition researchers recently released a position paper discussing how certain dietary components can influence heart health, weight gain, and more. "Pathways and mechanisms linking dietary components to cardiometabolic disease: thinking beyond calories" was published in Obesity Reviews on May 15.

After participating in the 2017 CrossFit Foundation Academic Conference, the researchers decided to carefully review nutritional research to answer the question: Are all calories equal with regards to effects on cardiometabolic disease and obesity?

It appeared not as when using the example of soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages, the researchers unanimously agreed that these beverages significantly increase cardiometabolic risk factors even compared with calorically-equal amounts of starch. The increase in risk factors could lead to chronic health problems like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Most recently, a research on mice suggested that artificial sweeteners exhibited negative effects linked to obesity. But in their next conclusion, the nutrition researchers​ agreed that aspartame (artificial sweetener) did not promote weight gain in human adults. 

"If you go on the internet and look up aspartame, the layperson would be convinced that aspartame is going to make them fat, but it’s not. The long and short of it is that no human studies on noncaloric sweeteners show weight gain," said lead author Kimber Stanhope, a research nutritional biologist at the University of California, Davis.

The researchers also stated that consumption of polyunsaturated (n-6) fats (found in some vegetable oils, seeds, and nuts) lowered disease risk when compared with equal amounts of saturated fats. They also caution that cheese, yogurt and other dairy foods which can be high in saturated fats have been linked to reduced cardiometabolic risk.

The World Health Organization recently called for the elimination of artificial trans fats (partially hydrogenated vegetable oil) from the global food supply by 2023. These fats are often used to improve the shelf life of fried foods, snacks, baked products, etc. But their consumption can have adverse health effects such as increased LDL levels and a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

While the health risks of such ingredients are well-established, the latest review acknowledged the many challenges facing experts due to contradictory findings in nutritional research. For instance, while some are convinced that coffee requires a cancer warning label, others have suggested that it can be good for the heart.

"We have a long way to go to get precise answers on a lot of different nutrition issues," said Stanhope. "Nevertheless, we all agree that a healthy diet pattern consisting of minimally processed whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and healthy fats promotes health compared with the refined and palatable typical Western diet pattern."