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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Women who chose plain water, instead of sweet drinks such as sodas or fruit juice, had a slightly lowered risk of developing diabetes in a large new study.
The results, based on more than 80,000 women followed for more than a decade, suggest that adding water to the sugary beverages a person drinks throughout the day won't make a difference, but replacing sweet drinks with water could help stave off the metabolic disorder.
"It is essentially not that water helps, except with hydration, but that the others hurt," Barry Popkin, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health who was not involved in the study, told Reuters Health.
It's well established that sugary beverages are bad for diabetes risk, said Dr. Frank Hu, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and the senior author of the study.
People have recommended drinking plain water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages, he said, "and the question is whether this kind of substitution has any impact on diabetes."
Hu and his colleagues collected data from the massive Nurses Health Study, which tracked the health and lifestyle of tens of thousands of women across the U.S.
The new study included 82,902 women who answered questions about their diet and health over a 12-year span.
Over time, about 2,700 of them developed diabetes.
The amount of water women drank didn't seem to influence their diabetes risk. Those who drank more than six cups a day had the same risk as women who drank less than one cup a day.
However, sugar-sweetened drinks and fruit juice were tied to a higher risk of diabetes -- about 10 percent higher for each cup consumed each day.
The research team estimated that if women replaced one cup of soda or juice with one cup of plain water, their diabetes risk would fall by seven or eight percent.
While it's not a huge reduction in the risk, "because diabetes is so prevalent in our society, even seven or eight percent reduction in diabetes risk is quite substantial in terms of the population," Hu told Reuters Health.
About 10 percent of women, or 12.6 million, have diabetes in the United States.
A seven percent reduction would mean that instead of 10 out of every 100 women having diabetes, the number would be closer to nine out of every 100.
Hu's study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, also found that unsweetened coffee or tea might be a good alternative to sugary beverages.
The researchers estimated that replacing one cup of soda or fruit juice with one cup of coffee or tea could reduce the risk of developing diabetes by 12 to 17 percent.
Hu said the study is important in pointing out that fruit juice is not an optimal substitute for soda or other sugar-sweetened drinks.
"The reality is those juices contain the same amount of calories and sugar as soft drinks," he said.
The bottom line, he said, is that plain water is one of the best calorie-free choices for drinks, and "if the water is too plain, you can add a squeeze of lemon or lime."
SOURCE: bit.ly/JVGdKU American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online May 2, 2012.