The world’s doctors have made up their minds: Consuming sugar, especially in large amounts, can really put your health at risk.1 Regulators and health watchdogs have been begging consumers to reduce their added sugar intake until it represents less than 10% of their daily calories, or preferably, avoiding it altogether.2,3,4
However, the average American drinks an extra 350 calories a day of added sugar, and 5% of the population consumes the sugar equivalent of four 12oz sodas a day. That’s over 500 calories more than the daily recommended amount.5 A growing body of evidence shows that soda can be harmful to health, even in small amounts.6
Surrounded by such consistent advice, many consumers are curious as to exactly why sugar and soda is so dangerous and how they might find healthy alternatives.
Why Is Soda Detrimental To Our Health?: Here’s A Look At The Ingredients Found In Sodas
As mentioned, the main problem with soda is the sugar. When consumed in fruit, sugar (fructose) can be part of a nutritious snack. This is solely due to the fact that fruits also contain rich amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which all provide measurable health benefits. The same does not go for a 12oz can of soda. In fact, soda contains no essential nutrients at all– you’re essentially drinking sugar.7
Soda manufacturers use sucrose (refined sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup to give soda its sweet taste. Drinking large amounts of added sugar is now clearly linked to weight gain and obesity.8,9 In turn and independently, sugar consumption increases the risk of other medical problems.10
A regular ‘sugar high’ trains our brain chemistry to create a ‘reward circuit’ (in much the same way that heroin and nicotine influence our brains). This provides a satisfying gush of dopamine in response to a sugary drink; for some people, this rush can represent the starting point of an addictive behavior, leading to more and more sugar consumption.
On top of that, soda doesn’t cause the body’s ‘satiety signal’ to be fired, so you won’t feel any more full, despite having taken in 10 grams (or nine teaspoons) of sugar.11
And let’s not forget, refined sugar from sodas and other sources literally rots your teeth out.12
Then, there’s the caffeine, the most widely used drug on Earth.13 This powerful psychoactive ‘stimulant enabler’ works so effectively in humans because it can dissolve in either fatty tissue or water (blood), allowing it to pass through the blood-brain barrier. Inside the brain, caffeine so closely resembles adenosine – a chemical which plays a role in signaling that you’re tired – that it can take its place and block it from doing its work. This buys you several hours of alertness, enhanced by the body’s own stimulant chemicals.
Over time, the brain compensates for this repeated caffeine load by producing more adenosine receptors, but this means you’ll gradually need to drink more caffeine to produce the same effect. Quitting caffeine can be a time of prolonged headaches and other symptoms as the brain adjusts once more.14
Although there’s only about 1/4th as much caffeine in a 12oz coke as in a cup of coffee, regular caffeine usage can cause neurological changes and might also lead us toward addictive behaviors. Every high results in a crash of some kind, and soda offers two simultaneous nadirs: a sugar burnout and a post-caffeine slump.15,16
Phosphoric acid is what gives soda its characteristic flavor. The problem is, it also interferes with the body’s uptake of calcium, leaving soda-drinkers at risk of weakened teeth and bones.17
Citric acid strips the enamel off our teeth, leaving them prone to unsightly discoloration, cavities and tooth decay. By itself, sugar compromises dental health by encouraging bacterial growth, but when paired with citric acid, the results for teeth can be disastrous.18
Sodium benzoate or E211, is linked to cell damage and accelerated ageing, as well as dizziness, hyperactivity and insomnia.19
The artificial color additive that gives Coca Cola its distinctive brown color has been linked to cancer in mice. In lemon-flavored and yellow-colored sodas, tartrazine food dye is used. Tartrazine has been linked to increased cancer risk.20
No, Diet Soda Isn’t Any Better
Rather than refined sugar, diet sodas use Non-Nutritive Sweeteners (NNS) such as aspartame and neotame. For soda manufacturers, these have been useful substances for at least 60 years, packing hundreds of times the sweetness of natural sugar. Diet Coke contains the highest aspartame levels of any soda, and it is the best-selling soda brand, so the dangers of aspartame are worth considering.21
With its artificial sugaryness, aspartame tricks our test receptors into believing that sugar is on the way. The body responds with a surge of the relevant signals, but these misfires have their own dangerous consequences, and there remains no compelling evidence that diet soda aids weight loss. In fact, studies have found the reverse. Additionally these artificial sweeteners have been linked to serious health issues including cancer.22,23,24
Other Healthier Alternatives To Soda And Energy Drinks
- Sparkling Water or mineral water brings the added additional benefits of vitamins and minerals, including magnesium and calcium. Choose a brand without any added sugar or sweeteners. Add a splash of orange, cranberry, or mango juice(again without any added sugar) to enliven your carbonated water. You could invest in a carbonated water dispenser, or even make your own.25
- Kombucha is a bubbly beverage infused with probiotics and antioxidants. Increasingly popular, kombucha can be a great alternative to soda, and now comes in a range of flavors. Just be mindful that some kombucha drinks have a high sugar content. Reach for those with little or no added sugar instead.26
- Green tea has long been held as a healthy alternative to coffee. Lower in caffeine and rich in antioxidants, green tea may even support healthy digestion.27 You can also drink it iced for that cold, refreshing feel you may have once found when drinking soda.
- Coconut water can also be a healthy choice. Again, read the label for sugar content.
- Vegetable juicing is a fast-growing niche. By making your own juice at home, you can avoid added salt, sugar, and unhealthy additives.28
Make The Switch To Healthy Soda Alternatives
It may be hard to imagine life without soda beverages or diet soft drinks, but like every other beneficial change to our health, the transition can happen if it’s planned and gradual. Once you’re in touch with the effects of sugar, and have experimented with some other options, it’ll be much easier to choose green tea, water, kombucha, or one of the other healthy alternatives to soda.
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