Alcohol is not the only beverage that could be endangering your liver. Some drinks could be leading you down the road nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition that leaves you in greater danger of a range of unpleasant health outcomes.
In fact, new research suggests that drinking fructose-sweetened beverages could play a key role in increasing your risk of getting fatty liver disease risk in the near future when combined with a high-fat diet.
In a study recently published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, researchers from the University of Barcelona looked at what happened when they gave female rats either a normal diet, a high-fat diet, or a high-fat diet supplemented with fructose-sweetened water.
They found that, while a high-fat diet on its own wouldn’t cause short-term fatty liver disease, the addition of the fructose-sweetened drink left rats vulnerable to the condition. Still, it is worth approaching these findings with some degree of caution.
“The study…doesn’t give me enough information to be able to say definitively as a dietitian that high-fructose corn syrup is the cause for fatty liver disease in humans,” Katherine Metzelaar, MSN, RDN, CD, founder and CEO of Bravespace Nutrition, tells Eat This, Not That!.
She pointed out that the rats in the study consumed more high-fructose corn syrup than humans typically would in a given day and that the study period was only three months, such that we do not know what the effects would be long-term. Overall, she advises against placing blame on high-fructose corn syrup that you wouldn’t place on other kinds of sweeteners.
“Your body will break sweeteners down into glucose no matter the kind of sweetener you use,” says Metzelaar. “Anytime we blame one food for something health-related we need to remember that we’re missing a lot.”
Still, while drinking a little bit of soda every now and then isn’t going to be much of a problem for your health, drinking too many soft drinks on a regular basis could take a toll. Studies have linked these beverages with increased risk of type 2 diabetes, elevated stroke risk, and even with quicker aging.
“Water is always a great beverage alternative,” suggests Pat Baird, MA, RDN, FAND, author, speaker and university professor at UConn Stamford and Norwalk Community College. “Berries, pieces of lemon and orange can perk up the flavor of plain water.”
If you’re looking for something closer to the soft drink experience, there are also a range of flavored sparkling waters you can try for a sugar-free option that’s more effervescent than plain water.
For more on minding your liver, be sure to check out these Signs You Have Liver Damage, Say Experts.