A soft drink goes by many names, soda, pop, soda pop, coke, fizzy drink, seltzer, mineral, lolly water, carbonated beverage… not to mention a vast range of proprietary brand names.
It is a beverage that typically contains carbonated water, a sweetener and a flavouring. The sweetener may be sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice, sugar substitutes (in the case of diet drinks) or some combination of these. Soft drinks may also contain caffeine, colourings, preservatives and other ingredients.
You will not be surprised to learn that they are very bad for your health and especially for the health of growing children.
Because they are known by so many different names, in this article we are going to use the generic term soda, which is most popular in America, but I think is understood in most English speaking countries.
First of all we will explain some of the horrendous ways that soda damages your health, but we will not leave you hanging there, we will offer you some alternatives and discuss their benefits and pitfalls.
1. Soda has no nutritional value
Although this may seem obvious, soda is not providing any of the nutrition needed by our bodies. It does, however, provide empty calories and can suppress the appetite. Consuming soda may cause you to eat less of the foods that you need to fuel your body. Those who drink soda regularly are also more likely to get less than the recommended amount of vitamin A, calcium, and magnesium, an important mineral to overall health.
2. Soda is harming children’s brains
A child’s brain is developing throughout adolescence. When they drink soda, they are consuming chemicals that are altering their brain. MSG can be hiding in the citric acid of soda, as well as in the artificial flavors. This excitotoxin has been shown to damage the neurons in the brain of mice. In addition, high levels of excitotoxins have been linked to brain tumours, diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, brain damage, learning disorders and behavioral problems.
Aspartame, found in diet soda, is causing the same effect. Long-term consumption of aspartame led to an imbalance in the brain. Aspartame’s methanol content is also concerning for brain health, as it converts to formaldehyde, a known neurotoxin.
3. Drinking Soda weakens bones
Drinking soda can actually deplete bones of much needed calcium. Phosphorus, a common ingredient in soda, leads to bone loss when in disproportionate levels to calcium. Caffeine is also a culprit here, as it is known to interfere with the absorption of calcium and bone density. Kids who drink soda are not likely to consume the necessary amount of milk or other calcium rich beverages.
4. Soda is causing bad behavior
The possible reasons for behavior issues from children who drink soda are many. It could be from the caffeine, sugar, artificial colors, or blood sugar spikes and drops. According to a survey of more than 3000 mothers, children who drank soda were more aggressive, withdrawn, and had trouble paying attention.
5. Soda destroys teeth
Sugar isn’t good for teeth, and neither are the acids within soda. Both the citric acid and phosphorus can wear away tooth enamel and lead to decay. Combined with the addictive nature of soda, teeth can be frequently exposed to this harmful beverage and be at risk for tooth erosion.
6. Soda is contributing to childhood diabetes
Mice fed artificial sweeteners, like aspartame found in diet sodas, developed glucose intolerance, which can be an early sign of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. What’s more frightening, is simply drinking soda in moderation may not reduce the risk. As little as one single 12 ounce (354 ml) can of soda a day can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 22%.
7. Kids who like the sweetness of soda are more likely to be overweight
One two year study of 3-5 year olds determined that the consumption of sugary beverages significantly increased the likelihood of childhood obesity. In addition, children who developed a preference for fatty or sweet foods were more inclined to be overweight. Even choosing diet soda to avoid sugar won’t prevent this, because aspartame increases sugar cravings by telling the brain to consume more.
8. Soda can lead to heart disease
One soda a day can increase the risk of a cardiovascular event by 61%. That same amount of soda is also linked to a 19% increase in heart disease. Considering the risk of soda dependence, children who begin drinking soda are more likely to consume it regularly. Over the span of their lifetime they will consume far more soda than someone who began drinking it in adulthood, which infinitely increases their risks.
9. Soda can inhibit digestion
Soda and caffeine are diuretics and can lead to dehydration, especially if soda is replacing water. Sugar and caffeine can increase the level of acids in the stomach leading to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Carbonation is also a common IBS trigger, as it results in more gas.
10. Soda is addictive
To make all of those matters worse, it is very easy to become addicted to soda. The addictive properties of soda come from a number of its ingredients. First, the caffeine. Caffeine is the the most commonly used mood-altering drug in the world, says a report from Johns Hopkins. The report goes on to say caffeine produces a physical dependence. Those experiencing this admit to altered moods and not being able to quit caffeine, despite wanting to. Children are not immune to this dependence, and some might even say they are more susceptible to caffeine’s effects due to their smaller body weight. Very few people will give their children coffee, but many ignore the caffeine content on soft drinks.
Studies on sugar have had similar findings. Sugar leads to a dependance complete with cravings and withdrawals. Choosing a diet soda without the sugar is no better option though. Artificial sweeteners actually trick the brain into wanting more, leading to dependence. Drinking soda may be more than just a bad habit, but an actual dependence that is tough to quit.
What are the alternatives to soda?
When it comes to kids, water and milk are simply the best options. Fruit juices are certainly a better choice than soda, but be wary of sugar content, too much juice can also cause weight gain. Consuming whole fruits not only provides much needed fibre to the diet, but can also quench a thirst.
If you are in need of something more than just these options, there are a number of healthier beverage alternatives.
Spruce Up Water
Flavored waters have been popping up all over the place, but many still contain sugar or artificial sweeteners. A healthier choice is natural flavoring: Just add slices of your favorite fruits and veggies — lemons, oranges, watermelon, cucumber, mint, or limes — to a pitcher of ice-cold water for a refreshing and flavorful drink. Another great option is to put chopped-up fruit in an ice cube tray, add water, and freeze. Place these colorful fruit cubes in your beverage for instant flavor and color
Go Natural With Green Tea
Studies of green tea have shown that it may help reduce the risk of several types of cancer, heart disease, hypertension, kidney stones, and possibly even cavities. In addition to this, green tea is calorie-free (if you have it without milk or sugar) and naturally high in antioxidants. You can pick any flavor you enjoy, because green tea is available in many varieties. It can be drunk hot or iced, and if you want a little sweetening, a few drops of honey will serve you well — though most people enjoy it au naturel.
Juice + Seltzer = Jeltzer!
There’s no need to purchase sugary sodas or pricey vitamin-enhanced waters, which also pack calories. Mixing 100 percent juice with seltzer yields a tastier, healthier, and less expensive drink. A thick, tart juice, such as cranberry, pomegranate, or grape, makes for a great jeltzer base in addition to supplying health benefits. Studies have shown that cranberry juice might protect against urinary tract infections and kidney stones; pomegranate juice is a great source of vitamins C and B; and grape juice has antioxidants that may help protect your brain and blood vessels. Mix one part juice with three parts seltzer to create this light and bubbly concoction.
Fake a Lemon-Lime Soda
|Can’t give up your favorite citrus-flavored soda? Indulge in an occasional treat with a healthier version made with lemon or lime and a small amount of sweetener. Start with a glass of sparkling or seltzer water, add a few slices of lemon or lime (or both), and a dash of stevia*-based sweetener, which is calorie-free and low in carbs. A little goes a long way so use it sparingly.*We have looked into stevia as an alternative healthy sweetner and the jury seems to be out. We found no strong evidence that it is unhealthy, but some say more research is required.
Ovela Fruit Infuser Bottle
Add refreshing flavour to every drink with the Ovela Fruit Infuser Bottle. The healthy and natural alternative to cordials, the infuser bottle lets you combine fresh fruit with water, tea or soft drink.
Red Wine Is Fine (not for kids or pregnant women obviously)
If your drink of choice is a spirit mixed with cola, you’re better off ordering a glass of wine. Specifically red wine, which when consumed in moderation, has been widely reported to reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease. Research on the benefits of this fermented fruit doesn’t stop there — red wine may also lower your risk of a heart attack, Alzheimer’s disease, and even cancer. The National Institutes of Health recommends that women limit consumption to one drink per day (4 ounces or 118 ml of wine), and men to two drinks per day, in order to reap the benefits. Look for wine without additives, such as sulfites, which can cause headaches and other allergic reactions.
Drink Your Vegetables!
Vegetable juice offers a quick, low-calorie way to get all the benefits of veggies. It also contains much less natural sugar than fruit juices. But vegetable juice can be high in sodium, so opt for a low-sodium version whenever possible. Better yet, make your own fresh juice easily at home with a juicer. Simply add your favorite veggies, and even a few slices of fruit if you want to sweeten your drink, to the juicer — no chopping required! If you prefer a little kick, add some black pepper and a drop of hot sauce.
Move Over, Milk — Time for Soy
Soy beverages are naturally sweet and are now offered in a variety of flavors, including almond and vanilla. They are a great alternative to milk for those who are lactose intolerant or those who don’t consume dairy. Studies on soy’s benefits show that soy milk may reduce your risk for heart disease and osteoporosis. Look for low-fat, unsweetened soy beverages to reduce calories while enjoying a healthy, great-tasting beverage! Also, pick soy milk that has been fortified with nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D, especially if you’re drinking it as a substitute for milk.
Let Loose With a Tea Infuser
Loose tea is a low-calorie option that allows you to get tea’s health benefits and flavor from the actual tea leaf, without any additives. Brewing loose tea in an infuser, a device that holds tea leaves in a mesh chamber that you submerge in water, works wonderfully to bring out the flavor of your tea of choice. Enjoying a hot cup of loose tea — such as white, green, oolong, or black — is a relaxing pleasure that’s also great for your health.
Indulge Your Coffee Habit
More and more evidence is showing that coffee in moderation can be a healthy part of your diet. Coffee drinkers may have a lower risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Women who drink a cup or more of coffee a day have up to a 25 percent lower stroke risk than non-drinkers. And — as if you didn’t know it already — coffee’s caffeine can help with mental alertness and physical performance, as long as you don’t overdo it. Too much caffeine can leave you jittery and anxious, so dietitians generally recommend that you drink no more than a few cups a day (depending on the way it’s prepared). That said, some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. Pregnant women and those trying to become pregnant may want to avoid it, though research on this is mixed.
So why not ditch the soda right away and pick your healthy alternative, there are certainly plenty of options, with more ideas in the links below. Just click on them for more information.