Alan Frischer, MD, MPH
During 1999, the average person in the United States drank a whopping 50 gallons of soft drinks per year. (50 gallons!) Granted, that was the peak. Since then, the average amount of soda consumed has dropped 20%...and is still an astounding 40 gallons per year. (40 gallons!) Are there benefits to drinking soda, and is it really so terrible?
Soft drinks consist mostly of water, sweetener (usually in the form of fructose or artificial sugar), and other chemicals. Those enormous 32-ounce cups contain a staggering 403 calories and 26 teaspoons of sugar. Today, in the interests of brevity, we won’t specifically address diet soda.
The major benefit of drinking a soft drink is the hydration provided by the water content. Many contain caffeine, a diuretic. This makes us urinate more, and detracts from the hydration, but on balance, we still end up more hydrated. Also, as we are all well aware, caffeine is a stimulant. This makes us feel more alert and energized, and has been shown to increase physical and mental performance. In the doses found in soft drinks, it is considered safe. A 12-ounce can of Coke, for example, contains 34 mg of caffeine, which is considerably less than the 80-100 mg found in a cup of coffee, and similar to the 30-50 mg found in black tea.
That’s about it. I can’t come up with any additional advantages. However, I could write volumes on the downsides of soft drinks. Here is just a taste:
Multiple studies report a clear association between soft drink consumption and increased body weight, and show that we tend to drink sugary sodas in addition to the calories we would otherwise consume. Drinking two cans per day can lead to two pounds of weight gain in a month.
Many sodas contain phosphoric acid, which can draw calcium out of our bones and weaken them. In addition, consuming large amounts of caffeine may affect our bone density by interfering with calcium absorption.
Soft drinks damage our teeth. Even a diet soda with no sugar contains phosphoric acid and citric acid, which erode enamel. And, of course, drinking sugar sodas bathes our teeth in sugar, and contributes to tooth decay.
Drinking soft drinks can lead to insulin resistance, which is a feature of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome frequently precedes the development of type 2 diabetes and its many serious complications.
Drinking soda contributes to the risk of heart disease because it is linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and excess fat. Fructose leads to abdominal, or belly fat, which is the most dangerous kind of fat.
There is some limited data suggesting that drinking soda and other sugary drinks have been linked to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer, as well as a greater risk of developing uterine cancer in postmenopausal women.
Drinking sugar soda can increase the level of uric acid in the body, with an increased risk of gouty arthritis attacks.
If you are motivated to eliminate soft drinks from your diet, consider these suggestions: Stock a replacement beverage, like the many different sparkling beverages that contain no sugar, artificial sugar, or other harmful chemicals. Juice contains a lot of sugar, but putting a splash of juice into a sparkling drink or water can be satisfying. If it’s the caffeine that you crave, try a glass of iced tea, flavored with lemon or a small splash of juice. Happy hydrating!