University of Cambridge researchers report that replacing one soft drink per day with water or unsweetened coffee/tea reduced the incidence of diabetes by 14 to 25 percent in a prospective cohort of 25,639 adults enrolled in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. Laura O’Connor, et al., “Prospective associations and population impact of sweet beverage intake and type 2 diabetes, and effects of substitutions with alternative beverages,” Diabetologia, May 2015. Funded by Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK, the study relied on food diaries completed over 11 years of follow-up, during which time 874 participants developed type 2 diabetes.

The findings evidently show a 22-percent increase in diabetes risk per additional daily serving of soft drink, sweetened milk beverage or artificially sweetened beverage (ASB)—although the association with ASB consumption disappeared when researchers accounted for body mass index and waist girth as markers of obesity. As the authors observed in a May 1, 2015, press release, “For each 5% increase of a person’s total energy intake provided by sweet drinks including soft drinks, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes may increase by as much as 18%.”

At the same time, the study suggests that replacing one soft-drink serving per day with water or unsweetened coffee/tea cuts diabetes risk by 14 percent, while replacing one sweetened milk beverage per day cuts the risk by 20 to 25 percent. “However, consuming artificially sweetened beverages instead of any sugar-sweetened drink was not associated with a statistically significant reduction in type 2 diabetes, when accounting for baseline obesity and total energy intake,” notes the press release.

“The good news is that our study provides evidence that replacing a habitual 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, offering practical suggestions for healthy alternative drinks for the prevention of diabetes,” the lead author is quoted as saying. “This adds further important evidence to the recommendation from the World Health Organization to limit the intake of free sugars in our diet.”