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The Not-So-Sweet Health Effects of Drinking Soda

Too much sugar can wreak havoc on your health

May 2012 enews Soda 260×180

Too much sugar can wreak havoc on your health

Over the past few decades, soda has become a staple of the American diet. Every restaurant offers a variety of flavors, vending machines are standard in the lunch rooms of office buildings and schools, and every convenience store sells soda by the bucket-sized cup. In fact, it’s hard to grab a quick meal without a soda being added as part of the price.

What most people don’t consider as they crack open a can of their favorite sweetened beverage is that this daily habit could be wreaking havoc on their health.

“The problem is high level of sugars in soda and consuming them every day,” notes Ken Fuijoka, MD, director of the Center for Weight Management at Scripps Clinic in San Diego.

Drinking beverages such as regular soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, juices and sweetened teas and coffee drinks could mean consuming anywhere between 90 to over 500 calories in simple sugars. Unlike more complex dietary carbohydrates found in fruits and vegetables, simple sugars are metabolized quickly and stimulate the production of insulin.

The continued production of high levels of insulin can lead to weight gain and obesity, which is linked to numerous medical problems including heart disease, diabetes, degenerative joint disease, asthma, fatty liver disease and reproductive cancers.

Weight gain may not be the only hazard associated with drinking soda or sugary beverages daily. Recent studies have found that these drinks may have an impact on heart health. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that drinking just one sugary beverage per day may increase the risk for heart disease in men by 20 percent.

Sugar-coated youth

“Sugary drinks can do a lot of damage to your health. And there is one group that drinking soda is becoming an increasing problem for: kids,” says Dr. Fujioka. “The number of kids that are becoming obese has increased dramatically over the past two decades and one of the biggest changes to their diet has been the amount of soda that they drink.”

Today, approximately 12.5 million American children are classified as obese. A report from the Centers of Disease Control noted that almost 25 percent of high school students drank a serving of soda at least once per day and 15 percent drank two or more per day. The study also found that as many as 62 percent of high school students drink some type of sugar-sweetened beverage at least once per day.

“Parents may need to deny their kids soda sometimes,” says Dr. Fujioka. “They should make sure it’s truly a treat, not an everyday thing.”

Alternatives to drinking soda

For many people, that daily soda is part of their routine and not having one every day may be difficult.

“People need to be aware how much sugar is in what they drink as well as what they eat,” notes Dr. Fujioka. “If they are getting more than 25 calories per serving, then it’s too high in sugar.”

Checking the label for serving sizes is also important since many containers contain two or more servings per bottle or can.

Water and low-fat or non-fat milk are both healthy ways to stay hydrated. For people who love the fizziness of soda, mineral water can be a good alternative. However, Dr. Fujioka doesn’t recommend switching to regular juice, since the high sugar content requires a lot of insulin to metabolize, just like soda. Juice without added sugars, watered down to a quarter of the strength, may help with the sugary drink cravings without being too high in calories.

“The best way for someone to get sugar is in fruit,” adds Dr. Fujioka. “People shouldn’t juice it though, they should just eat it. In that form, it’s a very safe and healthy thing to have.”