To make sense of our love for sugary beverages, researchers from South Africa pulled 36 different studies from the last decade, all of which examined how soda and other sweetened drinks impact our heart health.
The results of their review, which were published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society, concluded that regularly drinking the sweet stuff—typically five or more sugary drinks per week—ups your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic illnesses.
But the review also points to specific studies that suggest drinking just two cups of soda per week can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, while others found drinking just one sugar-sweetened beverage daily has the potential to spike your blood pressure. For reference, a standard 12-ounce can is 1.5 cups.
That means even just the occasional indulgence can set you up for health problems later on.
How? Soda floods your system with glucose and fructose, causing your blood sugar to spike, the researchers write. This can mess with the way your pancreas releases insulin, a hormone that helps your body take in sugar from your blood to convert into energy, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. When your body’s response to this sugar rush starts to stall, it will eventually need more and more insulin to allow that glucose to enter your cells. Over time, this insulin resistance can form into full-on type 2 diabetes.
Drinking soda is also associated with “visceral adiposity,” the researchers of the review note, which is a fancy term for the fat you can’t see hiding deep within your body around your organs, a very different kind than the belly fat sitting right beneath your skin. People who drink sugary beverages like soda have 10 percent more of this visceral fat than people who steer clear of the stuff, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition.
This type of fat is bad news, and has been linked to a slew of health issues like heart disease and diabetes, potentially because it tends to sit closely to the vein that carries blood from your intestines to your liver, according to Harvard Medical School. When free fatty acids are released from this visceral fat into your liver, they can bump the production of fat in your blood and eventually your arteries.
Drinking soda is also linked to more inflammation in your body, the review authors say, which is an immune response that has been linked to everything from heart disease to cancer to Alzheimer’s disease.