Let’s start with weight gain. A 20-oz. soda contains 250 calories and about 17 teaspoons of sugar. Now, I know I’ve never advocated calorie obsession, but these are empty calories completely void of nutritional value. So an adult consuming one of these nutrition-deficient drinks per day is potentially putting on 26 extra pounds a year.
Now let’s put weight gain to the side for just a moment and focus on the ingredient that makes soda so delicious: sugar. Regardless of how under control you think you have your soda craving, if you’re a soda drinker, you’re a soda addict. A recent Canadian study found that high fructose corn syrup, the main sweetening ingredient in most sodas, has addictive qualities similar to those of cocaine.
“It [high fructose corn syrup] notoriously initiates feelings of cravings, thus creating the kind of compulsive over-eating patterns very difficult to change.” Dr. Dave Moore, NY Daily News
If this stuff is so horribly addictive, why is it being used in sodas? Well, it was first introduced to the market in the 70s as a cheap substitute for real sugar and one that lengthened the shelf life of food. In 1970, the average American consumed less than a pound of HFCS a year. In 2005, the average had exploded to 42 pounds per year. Oh, and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but sodas are just the beginning of the devastatingly long list of food products that contain high fructose corn syrup as a main ingredient.
So we’ve got an addiction equivalent to that of a cocaine addict and significant weight gain from empty calories. But it doesn’t stop there. The acids founds in sodas (citric and phosphoric acids) corrode tooth enamel. A 2006 Academy of General Dentistry study determined drinking soda is about as harmful to your teeth as drinking battery acid.
Bones are also at risk. Soda consumption has actually been linked to loss in bone density and osteoporosis. One reason is that soda is replacing other healthy beverages that promote bone density, like milk. Another is that excess amounts of phosphorus found in soda can disrupt the body’s natural balance of phosphorus and calcium, causing bone loss.
Another study found that a daily serving of one 12-oz. sugary drink created a 19 percent increase in risk of cardiovascular disease in men. These drinks are linked to adverse changes in men’s levels of HDL, triglycerides and C-reactive protein.
A 2002 UCLA study determined that excess sugar reduces the brain’s production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This not only slows learning and memory, leading to dementia and depression, but it also makes the body more resistant to insulin. Insulin resistance is a huge problem that leads to obesity, high blood pressure and, ultimately, heart disease and diabetes.
Now, I realize a lot of these issues have been linked to the sugar aspect of sodas, but diet sodas are no innocent bystanders. Diet sodas have been associated with a two-fold increased risk for kidney decline in women. Oh, and consuming diet sodas also leads to a 34 percent higher risk of metabolic syndrome (belly fat, high cholesterol, risk for heart disease).
Here’s the point: there’s no amount of soda that’s “safe.” These studies have proven that even one tiny 12-oz. can a day has the potential to do damage to your heart. The best thing you can do if you have a hankering for soda is start a detox immediately. Obviously this is difficult because the sugar and caffeine contents are so addictive. Try to ease off slowly and find a better way to get your caffeine, like black coffee. Also try to start it on a weekend when you don’t have to be at work, as you will probably become very tired from the sugar withdrawal. Most importantly, keep your overall long-term health in mind the next time you are faced with the temptation to buy a soda, and grab a water bottle instead.