Soda Stats: How Those Empty Calories Add Up

How sugary drinks may be causing health problems all over the country.

ByABC News
April 6, 2010, 6:04 PM

April 21, 2010— -- Do you know what an average soda does to your body?

To find out, we went to the University of Pennsylvania's Rodebaugh Diabetes Center and drank 20 ounces of cola on an empty stomach. That's about the same amount the average American drinks in a day, making it the No. 1 source of calories in our diets, or 7 percent of the average person's caloric intake.

When you buy a soft drink, you are mostly getting water, with a lot of sugar and a little bit of flavor. But that sugar, usually cheaper corn syrup, consists of 45 percent glucose and 55 percent fructose.

The glucose in the sugar, or corn syrup, is quickly turned into energy, fructose, which is sweeter, is more likely to turn into fat.

After you drink a soda, the glucose hits your bloodstream, and your pancreas immediately begins making insulin to balance the sugar rush.

My glucose level started at 79, and then it rapidly shot up, because I had just put the equivalent of 16 teaspoons of sugar into my body. That is 10 more teaspoons of sugar than the American Heart Association recommends a woman like me consume in an entire day.

After 40 minutes, my glucose level had reached 107.

"This is the point where the glucose that you drank is really starting to get absorbed into the bloodstream, and this is where the pancreas is really starting to do its maximal work," said Dr. Mark Schutta, director of the Rodebaugh Center.

By the time he finished telling us that, I was up to 111.

At the same time, the other sugar, fructose, heads to your liver. Your liver converts the fructose so it can be burned as fuel and the excess stored away as fat, which can add up fast. While it is a point of contention, there is research on sugar intake that suggests the fat ends up as belly fat.

"The real issue is the empty calories that are in these drinks," said Dr. Michael Rickels, associate director of the Type 1 Diabetes Unit at the University of Pennsylvania. "If you consume two of those drinks every day ... you'll gain a pound every week from them. And if you just think about that over the course of a year, that's 52 extra pounds that you could put on your body. And that is really dangerous for anybody."

In a statement to ABC News, the American Beverage Association said all the results of ABC's "unscientific" demonstration showed was a "normal metabolic response to eating food," and that drinking sugar-sweetened sodas in moderation could be part of a balanced diet.

A full two hours later, my glucose levels had finally normalized, leaving us with a question: Does one drink of soda make a difference?

"One drink, in isolation, probably not," said Rickels. "It's the effect of repeated consumption that is most detrimental."

So while sodas provide fuel, it's really not the kind you want.

"Sodas are 50 octane gasoline that we're putting into our bodies," said Schutta. "If you consume enough of them, just like if you put really bad gas into your car, over a long period of time, you'll destroy the engine of your car."

To get some health alternatives to sodas and other sweets click here.

To read the full statement from the American Beverage Association click here.

And we want to hear your solutions for cutting back on sugar in your diet, so let us know below!