Swapping sugary soft drinks for water, or hot chocolate for tea and coffee, can reduce the risk of developing diabetes by up to a quarter.
But adding sugar to your daily cup of tea or coffee or having a fruit juice does not increase the risk, researchers have found.
The British study found that for each five per cent increase of a person’s total energy intake provided by sweet drinks, including soft drink or sugar-sweetened hot drinks, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes may increase by 18 per cent.
But unsweetened alternatives or sugar-free versions lower diabetes risk by between 14 and 25 per cent. The study was based on more than 25,000 men and women aged 40- 79 in Norfolk who took part in the EPIC-Norfolk study.
They were quizzed on everything they ate and drank for seven consecutive days and followed up 11 years later. From the group, 847 were diagnosed with new-onset type 2 diabetes.
Dr Nita Forouhi, of the UK Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge, said: “By using this detailed dietary assessment with a food diary, we were able to study several different types of sugary beverages, including sugar-sweetened soft drinks, sweetened tea or coffee and sweetened milk drinks, as well as artificially sweetened beverages (ASB) and fruit juice, and to examine what would happen if water, unsweetened tea or coffee or ASB were substituted for sugary drinks.”
It found a 22 per cent increased risk of type 2 diabetes per extra serving per day habitually of each of soft drinks, sweetened milk beverages and ASB consumed. However, fruit juice and sweetened tea or coffee was not related to diabetes.
After accounting for body mass index and waist as markers of obesity, there remained a higher risk of diabetes associated with consumption of soft drinks and sweetened milk drinks.
However, the link with ASB consumption no longer remained, something likely explained by the greater consumption of ASB by those who were already overweight or obese.
The study, published in Diabetologia journal, found that if participants had replaced a serving of soft drinks with a serving of water or unsweetened tea or coffee, the risk of diabetes could have been cut by 14 per cent.
By replacing a serving of sweetened milk beverage with water or unsweetened tea or coffee, that reduction could have been 20 to 25 per cent.
However, drinking ASB instead of any sugar-sweetened drink was not associated with a statistically significant reduction in type 2 diabetes.
Each five per cent of higher intake of energy, as a proportion of total daily energy intake, from total sweet beverages – soft drinks, sweetened tea or coffee, sweetened milk beverages, fruit juice – was associated with a 18 per cent higher risk of diabetes.
Dr Forouhi said: “The good news is that our study provides evidence that replacing a daily serving of a sugary soft drink or sugary milk drink with water or unsweetened tea or coffee can help to cut the risk of diabetes.”