Pop. Soda. Coke. Soda-pop. Whether from the Midwest, the Northeast, the South, or a combination, at some point or another our tastebuds have been taken by this sweet drink, particularly during these hot, humid summer months. Yet through the years, soda consumption has become a popular suspect in what is behind the increasing rates of obesity in adults and children alike. With so many possible factors contributing to the epidemic of excess pounds within our population, singling out soda by reducing or cutting our intake of it entirely might actually be the first step many of us can take to improving our health and thus, the collective health of our country.
But how to start? Where to begin?
Like many other subjects of nutrition science, research on the effects of soda can be confusing and conflicting. The stories we read and hear from the media are often based off of single studies, ones not meant to be taken as a definitive final answer on the subject. As a result, we jump from one sensational claim to another, making it that much more difficult to decide what amount of soda, if any, is reasonable. The jury is still out on some of the more contentious effects of soda drinking, but here is what we do know:
Soda is a significant source of calories
Nutritionists and weight loss specialists recommend against drinking calorie-filled beverages. This is because when we get our calories from drinks such as soda, sweetened tea, or fruit punch, juices and cocktails, we do not experience the satiety as when eating a solid food. In other words, while the drink is adding to daily caloric intake, it does not satisfy. The end result can be consuming an increasing number of calories just to feel the same fullness that drinking water, unsweetened iced tea or seltzer can provide.
Case in point: one of the first and simplest changes recommended when managing weight is to reduce caloric beverage consumption.
Soda displaces healthier choices
Some of the negative effects of drinking soda may have as much to do with what it is replacing in the diet as the properties of the drink itself. When questioning why some studies have linked high soda consumption with reduced bone density, for example, some experts believe that it is partially due to consuming less milk and other fortified beverages. It’s important to remember to leave room for moderate amounts of milk, fortified soy milk, fortified 100% juice, and so on.
Soda can cause spikes in blood sugar
In recent years we have seen a significant upswing in childhood type 2 diabetes. While this is largely linked to obesity, other factors come into play when considering the development of insulin resistance, leading to diabetes. The high amounts of quickly-digested carbohydrates in soda can cause glucose to rapidly enter the bloodstream, sometimes to the point of hyperglycemia. The body reacts by releasing insulin, allowing for the uptake of glucose into body tissue. In chronic cases, the body becomes resistant to this insulin, leaving more glucose in the blood as the condition becomes less controlled.
Soda affects your teeth
Surprise! Sure, you already knew this one, but it bears reminding. The acids and acidic byproducts present when drinking soda have long been known to soften tooth enamel and increase the risk of tooth decay. Soda purveyors recommend drinking your soda with a straw to bypass your teeth, but the real answer here is to simply drink less. Soda is in fact one of the most prominent sources of tooth decay from the diet.
But what about diet soda? This is its own can of worms in and of itself. Diet soda consumption has been linked to increased risk of stroke, heart attack, obesity (yes, obesity), diabetes, cancer, negative bone health and other deleterious effects. Even its primary purpose - allowing for a sweet treat without the calories - may be more complicated than it seems. A review of 12 recent studies suggests that diet soda drinkers are no less likely to be overweight than those who drink regular sodas. Reviewers hypothesize that consuming products with artificial sweeteners may confuse the body into not properly processing real sugars when they are consumed. They also state that diet soda drinkers may experience more sugar cravings than non-drinkers, leading to more overall sugar-and- calorie consumption.
In the face of all of these studies and information, it’s clear that soda drinking can be a very difficult pattern to break! At Red Rabbit, we find that focusing on the “to-do’s” instead of the “not to-do’s” makes it more fun to develop and dedicate ourselves to a healthier groove. So - we wouldn’t leave you hanging without some suggestions on how to kick a soda habit!
Drink less, Want less
While going “cold turkey” can be an alluringly quick route to take, it is not without its bumps and lumps along the way! Simply by slowly drinking less soda can make each successive day without it progressively easier. Taking the longer road allows us time to develop habitual changes that are more likely to stick with us for life. The same goes for kids: instead of cutting them off all at once, which can be more upsetting than necessary, letting the soda make a slow exit could prevent conflicts, easing your child into the change.
Tips and Tricks
One good way to start is by drinking the soda from a glass, and not the can! Fill up the glass with ice, and then add soda. The ice will displace quite a bit of the fizzy stuff, and make us feel like we’re getting more than we are. Another trick is to simply buy smaller cups and glasses! This may sound silly, but people tend to proportionately eat or drink more when the plate/bowl/glass is larger. Trick your brain into being satisfied with less.
Alternately, shifting to similar drinks is a great way to start. Many soda drinkers crave the effervescence of carbonated drinks just as much as the sugar and caffeine in sodas. Offer your child a drink of seltzer water with a splash of 100% fruit juice, or try one of the flavored seltzer waters (careful – some of these flavored seltzers do contain artificial sweeteners). Another great choice is to keep a pitcher of water in the fridge that has various cut up fruit or even vegetables in it for added flavor. We recommend trying cucumber with mint – delicious!
John Bashant, Red Rabbit Nutrition Compliance