If you're looking for ways to reduce your blood pressure, maybe you should lighten up on the sugary beverages. New research links sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages such as fruit drinks with elevated blood pressure.

In a study, for every extra sweetened drink a test subject consumed on a daily basis, both systolic and diastolic blood pressure rose significantly. Systolic blood pressure is the first number in the reading, such as 120/80. Diastrolic blood pressure is the bottom number.

Suspicion as to the cause of the increase has focused on the sweeteners used in the beverages. Researchers found higher blood pressure levels in people who consumed more glucose and fructose, both sweeteners that are found in high-fructose corn syrup, the most common sugar sweetener used by the beverage industry.

Then, there’s sodium

But beverages also contain sodium, long known to be a contributor to hypertension. Higher blood pressure was more pronounced in people who consumed high levels of both sugar and sodium.

The researchers said they found no consistent association between diet soda intake and blood pressure levels. Those who drank diet soda had higher mean Body Mass Index (BMI) than those who did not and lower levels of physical activity.

"This points to another possible intervention to lower blood pressure," said Paul Elliott, Ph.D., senior author and professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the School of Public Health at Imperial College London. "These findings lend support for recommendations to reduce the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, as well as added sugars and sodium in an effort to reduce blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health."

Sugary beverages have also come under scrutiny lately as a possible contributor to obesity. In 2006, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that one-third of all carbohydrate calories in the American diet come from added sweeteners. Of that total, the study claimed, beverages account for about half those calories.

High Fructose Corn Syrup

The study pointed the finger of blame at the main sweetener used in soft drinks, high fructose corn syrup. Not only does it contain more calories than regular refined sugar, but some studies suggest it reduces the body's ability to process calories. The study notes the increased availability of soft drinks has also been a contributing factor. It notes that consuming one extra soft drink each day would add 15 pounds in body weight to the normal person in a year.

In the blood pressure study, the researchers found that sugar intake in the form of glucose, fructose and sucrose was highest in those consuming more than one sugar-sweetened beverage daily. They also found that individuals consuming more than one serving per day of sugar-sweetened beverages consumed more calories than those who didn't, with average energy intake of more than 397 calories per day.

Less-healthy diets

"People who drink a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages appear to have less healthy diets," said Ian Brown, Ph.D., research associate at Imperial College London. "They are consuming empty calories without the nutritional benefits of real food."

The American Heart Association recommends no more than half of the discretionary calorie allowance from added sugars, which for most American women is no more than 100 calories per day and for most American men no more than 150 calories per day.

Discretionary calories are the remaining calories in a person's "energy allowance" after consuming the recommended types and amounts of foods to meet all daily nutrient requirements.