Soft Drinks Take a Toll on Your Health

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The only positive thing one can say about soft drinks is that they taste good, but the price people pay in terms of their health for that good taste can be high. When we look at the benefits and risks associated with soft drink consumption, the risk side of the equation is clearly the winner—and consumers are the losers.

For example, a meta-analysis of 88 studies conducted by researchers at Yale University found a clear association between intake of soft drinks and an increase in calories and body weight. The analysis also found a relationship between soft drink intake and an increased risk of several medical conditions, including diabetes and obesity.

A new study in the Journal of Hepatology (November 2009) found a strong relationship between consumption of soft drinks and the development of fatty liver disease, a condition that may affect up to 29 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that consumption of carbonated colas was associated with reduced bone mineral density, which leads to osteoporosis. A Loyola University study found a relationship between drinking sugary soft drinks (but not diet ones) and kidney damage.

Why are soft drinks unhealthy?
There are many answers to this question. One of the most important is sugar: a single serving of most soft drinks contains more than ten teaspoons of added sugar, which means drinking just one soda brings you to the daily limit for added sugar in the diet set by the US Department of Agriculture for a 2,000 calorie diet. Sugar has no nutritional value, and it also takes a toll on the body, raising insulin levels to a point where the immune system is suppressed, reducing the ability to fight infection.

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Soft drinks are often consumed in place of beverages that have nutritional or health value, including nonfat and low-fat milk, natural fruit juices, green and herbal teas, and pure water. Soda also adds “mindless” calories to the diet, as people often do not think about the calories they drink. Excess sugar is stored as fat in the body, contributing to overweight and obesity and increasing the risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and certain types of cancer. Soft drinks have also been linked with an increased risk of gout in men.

Soft drinks with carbonation contain phosphoric acid, which can deplete the body’s supply of calcium, contributing to bone loss over time. And if you think that drinking diet soft drinks is a healthier choice, think again. Consumption of artificial sweeteners found in soft drinks may actually contribute to weight gain. Aspartame, for example, stimulates the brain, increasing a craving for sweets and carbohydrates.

California study and soft drinks
The results of a recent (September 2009) study in California may be considered representative of an association observed between soft drink consumption and overweight and obesity across the United States. The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) study noted that 24 percent of adults consume at least one soft drink or other sweetened beverage daily. Adults who consume soft drinks occasionally (not daily) are 15 percent more likely to be overweight or obese, while those who have one or more soft drinks daily are 27 percent more likely to be overweight or obese than adult who do not drink soda.

Alternatives to soft drinks

For people who are dedicated soft drink users, it can take a while to get away from the sugary habit. Cold pure water flavored with fresh lemon or lime juice and a touch of honey is one alternative, as are 100 percent natural fruit juices. The latter should be diluted to reduce intake of sugar and calories, approximately three parts pure water to one part juice. Other alternatives for soft drinks are green tea, which has the added bonus of antioxidants; and herbal teas, which are a refreshing choice as well.

SOURCES:
Abid A et al. Journal of Hepatology 2009 Nov; 51(5):918-24
Babey SH et al. Policy Brief UCLA Center for Health Policy Research 2009 Sep; PB 2009-5:1-8
Shoham DA et al. PLoS One 2008; 3(10): e3431
Tucker KL et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2006 Oct; 84(4): 936-42
Vartanian LR et al. American Journal of Public Health 2007 Apr; 97(4): 667-75

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