We Americans love our soda pop or soft drinks. The problem is that the sweet, carbonated drink you might crave at 3 p.m. is also a source of health problems.
Not-So-Sweet Health Problems
Regular sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) consumption has been linked to increased risk for many chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, gout, poor bone health, dental issues, and obesity. Research has even shown a possible connection between SSB intake and premature death.
Sarah Zou, MPH, RDN, a clinical dietician at University of Utah Health, reminds us that sugar-sweetened drinks can be harmful to our health—and not just soda. “That includes any drink which is sweetened with sugar or other sweeteners, such as high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, sucrose, agave, or honey,” Zou says. “Beverages like lemonade, fruit punch, sports drinks, energy drinks, enhanced water drinks, sweetened tea, and sweetened coffee drinks also contribute to the same health issues as soda.”
A CDC report explains the relationship between SSB consumption and weight gain:
- When calories are consumed as liquids, people may not subsequently adjust their other calorie intake.
- The prompt drop in blood sugar that follows the insulin response to intake of foods or beverages high in sugars increases hunger and may increase food intake.
- Fructose (a sugar found in commonly used beverage sweeteners) does not activate hormones that help regulate satiety, which can result in not feeling full after drinking SSBs.
In short, after drinking sugary drinks, you probably won’t feel satisfied and might even feel hungrier.
How Do Sugary Drinks Affect Kids?
On any given day, it is estimated that two out of three children ages 2-17 consume sugary drinks. Children who consume SSBs can suffer from the same effects as adults: increased risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, tooth decay, and problems with bone health. According to Zou, research indicates that behavioral problems can result as well.
Ideas to Help you Rethink What You Drink
Water, of course, should be the first choice for SSB replacement, but it can seem boring when compared to soft drinks, which are made as enticing as possible. “There is a reason the Coca-Cola® recipe is a closely guarded secret,” Zou says.
Sugar-Free Soft Drinks. Although a wide variety of sugar-free soda and energy drinks is available, the jury is still out on the harmfulness of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame. Zou explains much of the research remains inconclusive. A 2018 advisory from the American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association recommended that artificially sweetened drinks can be used as a temporary replacement for SSB in adults who are trying to reduce their SSB intake. They recommend that children should not drink artificially sweetened drinks because of the unknown long-term health effects.
However, research published a year later indicated that artificial sweetener consumption may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, just as drinking SSBs can. It can also affect tooth health.
Sparkling Water Beverages. If you love the carbonation in soft drinks, carbonated water drinks with natural flavorings that have no sugar or artificial sweeteners can be a great choice.
Make Your Own Flavored Water. Grab a pitcher of water and add fresh fruit, sliced cucumber, or herbs such as mint or basil for a delicious, all-natural infused water.
Unsweetened Tea or Coffee. Go old school and make a cup of tea or coffee. With nearly unlimited options for tea—caffeinated, decaffeinated, or herbal—you can easily banish boredom. Be sure to steer clear of sugary, high-calorie coffee and tea drinks that you might find at your local coffee shop or the grocery store.
Juices. Juice may seem like a natural substitute for soda pop, only healthier because they include vitamins. But juice also includes sugars—sometimes added sugars—and is high in calories. It should be enjoyed in limited quantities.
By making a few simple changes to our beverage selection, we can enjoy better health and easily meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that suggest limiting all sources of added sugar to ten percent of daily calories.