JUST two sugar-sweetened soft drinks a day can increase a woman's risk of heart disease and diabetes, as well as expand her waistline, say researchers.
Scientists compared middle-aged and older women who consumed two or more sugary fizzy drinks or flavoured waters a day with those who drank one or less.
Over a period of five years, distinct differences were seen between the two groups.
Women who drank more sweetened beverages were nearly four times more likely to develop high levels of triglyceride blood fats, which can harm arteries.
They also stood more chance of growing thick round the middle and their blood sugar was poorly controlled, raising the risk of diabetes later in life.
The same pattern was not seen in men.
Study leader Dr Christina Shay from the University of Oklahoma in the US, said: "Women who drank more than two sugar-sweetened drinks a day had increasing waist sizes, but weren't necessarily gaining weight.
"These women also developed high triglycerides and women with normal blood glucose levels more frequently went from having a low risk to a high risk of developing diabetes over time."
The study was part of a bigger heart health investigation called the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, which looked at data on 4,166 adults aged 45 to 84. Findings from the research were presented today at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions meeting in Orlando, Florida.
Dr Shay added: "Most people assume that individuals who consume a lot of sugar-sweetened drinks have an increase in obesity, which in turn increases their risk for heart disease and diabetes.
"Although this does occur, this study showed that risk factors for heart disease and stroke developed even when the women didn't gain weight."
Women may be more likely to risk their health with sugary drinks because they require fewer calories than men, she said.
For women, each calorie counted more towards cardiovascular risk.