Soft drinks and other sugary drinks form a significant part of the average Western diet. Though soda consumption has dropped by more than one-quarter in the past 20 years, sugary drinks still remain immensely popular. One 2013 analysis, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that Americans consume an average of 150 calories from soda each day. This is about the equivalent of one can daily. The consumption of sweet drinks has also increased dramatically in European countries.
Dangers of Sugary Drinks
Although millions count on sugary beverages for an energy boost, the large amounts of refined sugar present in soda and similar drinks is very unhealthy. Drinking sugared beverages on a regular basis increases your risk of many serious health problems. Following are just a few of the most serious.
Type 2 Diabetes
Some studies have shown that drinking sweetened beverages regularly can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes by around 26 percent. However, the increased risk could be much higher than that. There was a very large of study spanning eight years and involving more than 90,000 women—nurses, specifically. This well-known study is called the Nurses’ Health Study, and it found that drinking even just one soda or other sugary drink every day fully doubles your risk of diabetes.
Heart Attack and Heart Disease
The Nurse’s Health Study also found that consuming two or more sugary drinks daily increases the risk of heart attack and death from heart disease by 40 percent. Another study, which followed 40,000 men for two decades, discovered that just one can of soda daily increases the risk of heart attack by 20 percent.
Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
One study, published in the Journal of Hepatology, found that one serving of sugared beverage daily can increase the risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. This liver disease can progress to very serious health conditions such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.
The Framingham Heart Study involved approximately 4,000 people over the age of 30 who were examined used MRI and cognitive tests. The study found that those who regularly consume sugar through beverages have smaller overall brain volume, poorer memory and smaller volume of the hippocampus, the region of the brain responsible for memory. These symptoms are collectively known as brain atrophy.
One study, published in 2014 in the Journal of Nutrition, found that out of almost 2,600 middle-aged people, those who had one sugary drink every day had 10 percent more visceral fat than those who drank none. Visceral fat is the fat that surrounds the abdominal organs and having too much of it is significantly more dangerous than other types of fat. Excess visceral fat is associated with metabolic damage, heart disease, dementia, hormone imbalances and more.
Poor Bone Health
Carbonated sodas contain phosphate. If you consume more phosphate than you do calcium, it can have a negative effect on bone health.
One large study that followed 80,000 women over a period of 22 years discovered that daily sugary beverage consumption increases the risk of gout, a painful type of inflammatory arthritis, by 75 percent.
Making the Switch Away From Sugar
Sugared drinks harm your health even if you are a normal weight or eat an otherwise healthy diet. This was proven when researchers from the Nurses’ Health Study accounted for differences in diet and body weight, finding that sugary drink intake acts largely independently to increase the risk of health problems. Cutting out sugary drinks from your everyday diet is beneficial to everyone. The results of three clinical trials, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2012, found that abstaining from sugary drinks promotes weight loss and prevents weight gain.
Of course, most people are aware that sugar isn’t good for you. But, the dangers of soda and similar drinks are especially insidious because even though they are even less nutritious than candy, most people do not view them in the same category as sweets. To be successful in avoiding sugary drinks, it helps to shift your mindset. Such beverages should be classified in your mind as a special treat to only have every once in a while.
Replacing full-sugar soda with diet soda is not a real solution. After all, the Framingham Heart Study mentioned earlier found that drinking a diet soda daily increases the risk of stroke and dementia by almost 300 percent. Diet soda also contains the phosphate that can weaken your bones. However, replacing sugary beverages with water may be unappealing and lackluster to many people.
Try replacing soda with unsweetened iced tea (made at home from unsweetened tea bags). Iced black tea with lemon is a classic. But there are so many other options. Give ginger, peppermint, hibiscus, chai and green teas a try. There are also a huge variety of naturally flavored tea blends, including fruit flavors and dessert flavors. Just don’t add any sugar!
A good portion of people drink soda not just for the taste, but also for the caffeine kick, as many varieties of soft drink contain this stimulant. Moderate amounts of caffeine can give you a short-term energy boost, lighten your mood and improve focus. Unfortunately, there are also negative health effects of caffeine. Instead of drinking a cola as your afternoon pick-me-up, try formulas that include energy-boosting herbs instead. For example:
- Eleuthero is an adaptogen that helps your body resist fatigue.
- Ginkgo biloba boosts memory, cognition and mental energy.
- Maca root (also known simply as maca) is a potent adaptogen that has been used to increase energy and vitality for thousands of years.
- Panax ginseng improves cognition and sleep quality and relieves fatigue.