flickr | Matteo Gametto

flickr | Matteo Gametto

A recent article on the potential benefits of drinking soda is a classic example of cherry-picking a portion of research findings and then translating it in a way that creates shock-value. I do agree with the author initially - if you are going to stray from water once in a while then have regular soda, not diet, and enjoy it responsibly or in moderation. After that I stop agreeing with what the author is suggesting. Veteran consumers of health, nutrition and fitness evidence like you can spot this flimsy approach easily but for others it could plant the wrong message. Let's unravel this article and the actual study it was based on to see beyond the shocking title and send a better message about sugar!

Article title vs. study title

The disconnect between the two titles shows how easy it is for research to get warped in translation. See for yourself: 

Article Title: "There May Be a Benefit to Drinking Sugary Soda."

Study Title: "Excessive Sugar Consumption May Be a Difficult Habit to Break: A View From the Brain and Body."  

What is moderation? 

I find that it is very difficult to visualize how many grams of sugar we are actually consuming. I don't know what 45 grams of sugar looks like! I can, however, picture a teaspoon of sugar. One of the things we do with our players here with the Lakers, is to visualize sugar in teaspoons instead of grams so the players can make more educated choices. This is easy to do: There are approximately 4 grams of sugar in a teaspoon. Add the total sugars and carbohydrates and divide that number by 4. This will give you the number of teaspoons (SUGARS + CARBS / 4 = TEASPOONS OF SUGAR)

This study had the participants drinking 3 servings of soda per day. Depending on how they defined serving size, this could be upwards of 48 teaspoons of sugar per day (~16 teaspoons per can). That doesn't sound like moderation or once in a while to me. The authors of the study seem to agree since they used the word "excessive" to describe how much sugar participants consumed. 

RELATED: Burn Fat With Fat, Not Sugar

Excessive sugar intake can lead to joint inflammation/pain, fatigue and immune system breakdown. Our players still reach for the sugary products at times (some more than others) but at least now they have a better idea of how much sugar is hidden in products and why it is important to steer clear when possible. 

Article conclusions vs. study conclusions

The author of the article is overly focused on the suggestion that soda could provide stress relief and drinking it in moderation is ok if it makes you happy.

However, the intention of the original research study is to explain that the stress relieving properties of high sugar intake is what makes sugar so addictive, leading to conditions like rampant obesity.

Trick to take to the trenches

Start by quantifying sugar totals in teaspoons instead of grams:

SUGARS + CARBS / 4 = TEASPOONS OF SUGAR

Avoid putting pressure on yourself to eliminate sugar all together - this is unrealistic! Defining moderation can be tricky and should be done on a case by case basis through some trial and error. A great strategy is to determine how many total carbs and sugars you consume on average per day. Once you have this baseline you can make adjustments as appropriate. Some people are more sensitive to sugar than others. If you notice that consuming a certain dose of sugar per meal or per day has an ill-effect on your body, then you know when you have hit excess. 


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Tim DiFrancesco, PT, DPT, ATC, CSCS is the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Los Angeles Lakers and Founder of TD Athletes Edge, where he provides fitness, recovery and nutrition guidance to aspiring and professional athletes. For training advice, visit www.tdathletesedge.com and follow him on Twitter/Instagram through @tdathletesedge.


Jacoby, S. (2015, April 17). There May Be A Benefit To Drinking Sugary Soda. Retrieved April 23, 2015.

Tryon, M., Stanhope, K., Epel, E., & et al. (2015). Excessive Sugar Consumption May Be a Difficult Habit to Break: A View From the Brain and Body. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Retrieved April 23, 2015, from http://press.endocrine.org/doi/pdf/10.1210/jc.2014-4353

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