“When we consume too much sugar the excess is converted to fat and stored. This fat tissue located around the heart and in the abdomen releases chemicals into the body which can be harmful to health,” said study author So Yun Yi from the University of Minnesota in the US.
“Our results support limiting added sugar intake,” Yi added.
For the findings, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, the research team examined both sugar-sweetened beverages (such as soft drinks, fruit drinks, energy drinks) and sugar added to foods and beverages for sweetness (for example when cooking or in processed foods).
They analysed the association between long-term sugar consumption and fat stores around the heart and other organs.
Data were obtained from Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA), an ongoing cohort study in the US that includes centres in Alabama, California, Illinois, and Minnesota.
A total of 3,070 healthy participants aged 18 to 30 were included in this study.
Food and beverage intakes were measured three times over a 20-year period (1985 to 2005). After 25 years (in 2010) computed tomography (CT) scans of the chest and abdomen were performed to measure fat volumes in the abdomen and around the heart.
The researchers found that sugar intake over the 20-year period was related to fat volumes later in life.
Higher intakes of both sugar-sweetened beverages and added sugar were related to greater fat stores around organs in a stepwise fashion, the study showed.
“Our findings provide more evidence that consuming too much added sugar and sugary drinks is related to a higher amount of fat tissue,” said study author Dr Lyn Steffen from the University of Minnesota.
“And, we know that fat deposits are connected with higher risks of heart disease and diabetes,” Steffen added.
The researchers advised reducing the amount of added sugar consumed each day.
“Have water instead of sugary drinks and choose healthier snacks over foods rich in added sugar like cakes,” the authors wrote.