Replacing one sugary drink with water, tea or coffee each day could help cut the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by as much as 25 per cent, new research out of the U.K. shows. 

The study, published Thursday in the European journal Diabetologia, linked daily consumption of sweetened drinks with diabetes risk:  for each five per cent increase of a person’s total energy intake provided by sweet drinks, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes could rise by 18 per cent, researchers found.

Researchers also found that the number can be offset by a relatively small change in daily drink intake. Replacing one serving of a sugary drink – including a soft drink — with water, unsweetened tea or coffee can lower the risk of developing diabetes by 14-25 per cent, the study found.

The research was based on a larger study that included more than 25,000 U.K. men and women ages 40-79. The participants kept a food diary for seven consecutive days, with attention to type, amount and frequency of portions, and whether sugar was added.  The study found that during 11 years of follow-up, 847 participants were diagnosed with new-onset type 2 diabetes.

Using the dietary assessment with a food diary, researchers were able to study different types of sugary drinks, sweetened milk beverages, artificially sweetened drinks, and fruit juice. After accounting for body mass index and waist girth, there was a risk of diabetes associated with consumption of both soft drinks and sweetened milk drinks.

By replacing a serving of soft drinks with water or unsweetened tea or coffee, the risk of diabetes was cut by 14 per cent. And, by substituting sweetened milk drink with water or unsweetened tea or coffee led to a further decrease in risk: 20-25 per cent.

Researchers also noted that consuming drinks with artificial sweeteners instead of sugar-sweetened drinks was not linked to a significant reduction in type 2 diabetes, when accounting for baseline obesity and total energy intake.

“The authors estimated that if study participants had reduced the energy they obtained from sweet beverages to below 10%, 5% or 2% of total daily energy, 3%, 7% or 15% respectively of new-onset diabetes cases could have been avoided,” a statement on the study said.

Lead author Dr. Nita Forouhi of the University of Cambridge, said that the “good news” is that the study provides evidence that replacing a daily serving of a sugary soft- or milk drink with water or unsweetened tea or coffee can help cut the risk but also offer “practical suggestions for healthy alternative drinks for the prevention of diabetes.

Forouhi said the findings on the potential to “reduce the burden of diabetes” by reducing energy intake from sweetened drinks adds “further important evidence to the recommendation from the World Health Organization to limit the intake of free sugars in our diet.”

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