June 1/London/PTI -- Drinking plain water instead of fizzy drinks and juices could help stave off diabetes, scientists claim. However, adding water to a sugary beverage will not make any difference, according to the researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The researchers, who looked at the drinking habits of about 83,000 women for more than a decade, found that those who drank plain water instead of the sweetened beverages had 7-8% reduced risk of developing diabetes. Lead researcher Dr. Frank Hu said it is well established that sugary beverages are bad for diabetes risk.

"People have recommended drinking plain water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages, and the question is whether this kind of substitution has any impact on diabetes," he was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.

For the study, Hu and his team collected data from the massive Nurses Health Study, which tracked the health and lifestyle of 82,902 women for over 12 years. Over time, about 2,700 of them developed diabetes. The amount of water women drank did not 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% higher for each cup consumed each day. The researchers estimated that if women replaced one cup of fizzy drink or fruit juice with one cup of plain water, their diabetes risk would fall by 7-8%.

"While it is not a huge reduction in the risk as diabetes is so prevalent in our society, even 7 or 8% reduction in diabetes risk is quite substantial in terms of the population," Dr Hu said.

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 a carbonated drink or fruit juice with one cup of coffee or tea could reduce the risk of developing diabetes by 12-17%. Hu said the study is important in pointing out that fruit juice is not an optimal substitute for soda or other sugar-sweetened drinks.

He said, "The reality is those juices contain the same amount of calories and sugar as soft drinks. The bottom line 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."

 From the June 1, 2012, Prepared Foods’ Daily News