It is estimated that each year American’s consume as much as fifty billion liters of soft drinks. You read that right, “fifty BILLION”! That averages out to approximately fifty-seven gallons per person, or more than one gallon a week for the average adult. For optimal health, you should be consuming at least four gallons of water in a week. Chances are that all of that soda is replacing water for most avid soda drinkers. This means that up to a quarter of necessary fluid intake is being consumed in the form of sugary, high fructose corn syrup-laden soft drinks.
The truth is that these statistics just average soda consumption out over a defined population, but not everyone enjoys an ice cold carbonated beverage from time to time. The logical assumption is that some of us out there rely on sugary sodas as the first choice when we are thirsty. It might taste good, but at what cost? Regular consumption of soft drinks has been linked to serious health conditions such as diabetes, osteoporosis and even heart disease. Here is the scoop on why soda is so bad for you and how giving it up can be one of the single most effective moves you can make to work towards your goal of living a healthier life.
According to an article published by the Harvard School of Public Health, studies have provided us with the following statistics on soda consumption and the effect on our health.
- Regular soda drinkers, meaning one to two 12-ounce cans per day, have a 26% greater risk of developing Type II diabetes over their lifetime than those who only drink soda occasionally, or abstain completely. Another similar, related study determined that both men and women who drank soda regularly were fifty percent more likely to develop metabolic syndrome.
- A larger study that looked at 90,000 women determined that those who drank twelve to twenty four ounces per day were forty percent more likely to experience a heart attack or die from heart disease. This is an incredible finding considering that the number one killer in the western world is heart disease, and we are also the number one consumer of soft drinks.
- Yet another study determined that women who drank soda on a regular basis were up to seventy-five percent more likely to develop gout in their lifetime.
Those are some pretty serious side effects of something that is supposed to be refreshing and delicious. Unfortunately, there are a few more negative side effects of drinking too much soda.
- Carbonated soda drinks contain high levels of phosphate. When the amount of phosphate you consume exceeds the amount of calcium that you consume, it can spell out major trouble for your bone health. This is especially true for adolescents and premenopausal women who need calcium to build and maintain strong bones.
- Soda consumption is directly linked to rates of obesity. Preteen and early-teen aged children who drink at least one soda beverage a day are more likely to be or become obese than their peers with healthier dietary habits. Is it estimated that each twelve ounce soda that you drink each day increases your risk of obesity by sixty percent, adding up to fifteen pound to the scale every year.
- Soda consumption has been linked to certain types of cancer including breast, throat and colon.
So, what exactly is it about soda that makes it such a hazard to your health? The answer is the very same thing that makes it taste so good; sugar. Whether it is in the form of table sugar or high fructose corn syrup, each twelve ounce serving of soda contains ten teaspoons of sugar, equaling out to about 40 grams of the sweet stuff. Dietary guidelines suggest that women should not exceed 30 grams of sugar in a single day. Just one serving of soda and you have already blown your entire sugar “budget” for the day.
Sugar on its own is considered an addictive substance. Sugar stimulates the same pleasure receptors in the brain as narcotic substances such as heroin or cocaine. Add to this that many sodas contain caffeine, and it becomes easy to understand why we have become a culture that needs to constantly have a soda within reach. The problem is that sugar can absolutely wreck your health on so many levels. Here are just a few examples of ways that exceeding more than 30 grams of sugar a day can damage your health.
- This might seem like common sense, but sugar is bad for your waistline. The calories in sugar are referred to as empty calories. They have no nutritional value and calories from sugar actually send signals to your brain that you are not satiated, leaving you craving not only more sugar, but also more of everything else.
- Drinking soda only makes you crave more sweets. Sugar affects your taste receptors so that you build up a tolerance to sweets in very much the same way that someone might build up a tolerance to medications. The more you drink, the more you want.
- Sugar promotes inflammation in your body. Inflammation is one of the precursors to many of the chronic health conditions that we suffer from today including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
- The inflammation that sugar causes is also detrimental for your skin. Inflammatory responses can induce acne breakouts and also deteriorate the collagen support structures of your skin that keep your skin smooth, supple and youthful looking.
- Additionally, excess sugar consumption has been linked to all of the following conditions; osteoporosis, tooth decay and periodontal disease, eating disorders, mineral depletion, throat and stomach ulcers, gallstones, adrenal fatigue, immune system supression, hypoglycemia, eczema and arthritis.
Before you conclude that because the sugar found in soda is so bad for your health that sugar found in natural foods, such as fruit, must be terrible also, let’s go into the difference between the two. The main difference is in how these types of sugars deliver glucose and fructose throughout the body. Natural sugars are often accompanied by fiber and other nutrients that help your body more effectively breakdown, process and utilize the sugars. In addition you are consuming healthy calories instead of empty ones. On the other hand when you consume refined sugars, such as those found in soda, it simply overloads the body and puts additional stress on your organs as you try to process it. This causes sharp spikes in insulin levels and an inflammatory reaction. Natural sources of sugar such as fresh fruit, pure fruit juices and some dairy products are all beneficial dietary components.
You might think that because you choose the diet version of your favorite soft drink all of this talk about sugar damage doesn’t really pertain to you. I’m sorry to tell you that isn’t entirely correct. The artificial sweeteners used in diet sodas have a similar neurological effect as regular sugar, causing you to crave more sweets in the long run. Studies have found that artificial sweeteners also affect metabolism, which can cause you to gain weight, or make it harder to lose the excess weight that you are already hanging on to. When you think of it this way, there really isn’t anything “diet” about it. If you must have a soda, the sugar free option is probably better, depending on how well you tolerate artificial sweeteners, but honestly there are options that are more flavorful and actually good for you. The next time you are craving a soda, try one of these refreshing ideas instead.
- The ultimate thirst quencher is pure water. It hydrates, refreshes, detoxifies and supports healthy metabolism.
- Do you find plain water a little bland? Try adding some pizzazz to it by adding fresh fruit or herbs. Try sliced strawberries, tangerines, mint, cucumbers or basil.
- Green tea. Drink it iced or cold and this high antioxidant beverage will fight off all of the damage caused from years of soda drinking. But make your own. Commercially bottled green teas often come loaded with added sugar.
- A surprisingly healthy, antioxidant rich drink all on its own. Research has shown that consuming anywhere from one to four cups of coffee a day provides a variety of health benefits. Just remember to skip the sugar and take it easy if you are sensitive to caffeine.
- If it is the carbonation of soda that you crave, why not try recreating the bubbly effect with a refreshing fruit spritzer. Mix one half sparkling mineral water with one half of your favorite 100% fruit juice or fruit nectar.
- Take advantage of nature’s sweetness with a little honey. Add just a little drizzle to a glass of sparkling mineral water and then squeeze in slices of fresh lemon and lime.
- Consider vegetable juice. Tomato based vegetable juices have a reputation of being just for breakfast or the occasional bloody mary, however many vegetable juice available today are mixed with fruits that add sweetness. You could also go full force and enjoy a highly satiating glass of pure vegetable juice or try one that is spiced or enhanced with herbs.
- This fermented tea has a natural carbonation, plus it is great for adding essential probiotics into your digestive system. Plain Kombucha has a flavor that is tart and a little sharp, a bit like fresh ginger. It also comes in an incredible variety of flavors, or make your own and get creative.
- Coconut water. This is the liquid that comes from the center of the coconut fruit. When chilled it is very refreshing and perfect for a hot summer day.
Now you know why soda is so bad for you and you are armed with a list of delicious alternatives. But the question of how to finally kick the soda habit still must be addressed. The truth is that there is no right answer to this question. Some people find it easier to gradually wean themselves, especially if they crave the caffeine as well, while others do best with a cold turkey approach. When deciding which route to go, you should keep in mind that sugar is addictive and the more you drink the more you crave, and unfortunately that holds true for artificial sweeteners as well. If you cut back to just one soda a day, you might just be torturing yourself because your body will constantly be telling you that you want more.
My best advice is to try a short term soda cleanse. Start with small goals such as three days or one week being soda free. The amazing thing is that after about two weeks, you simply won’t crave it anymore. And someday when you decide to allow yourself the decadent treat of an ice cold soda you might find that it doesn’t taste as good as your remember. This will be because you have taught your body to recognize and appreciate the sweet things that nourish it, and your once sensitized taste buds will be overwhelmed by soda’s sugary ambush.
Cutting soda from your life is one healthy commitment that you should make to yourself right now. Kicking the habit for good can leave you healthier, stronger and more energized. There is no better way to look toward the future.