Why Soda is So Bad for Your Health (And How to Kick Your Habit for Good)

Brianna Weidman
Why Soda is So Bad for Your Health (And How to Kick Your Habit for Good)

Did you know that just one can of regular soda is over 100% of your recommended daily intake of sugar? By now, you're probably aware of the growing pile of research disparaging your soda habit. After all, most of us know that the frequent consumption of soda is linked to weight gain and high blood pressure.

But the sweet, refreshing taste of soda (and the sugar rush!) can be hard to give up. Read on to discover just how these sugary beverages affect your body in the long run—and how you can kick your habit for good.

How Soda Wreaks Havoc on Your Body

The consumption of soda has been linked to several alarming health risks: impaired cognitive function, weight gain, chronic heart disease, heart attack, pulmonary complications, and Type 2 Diabetes, to name a few.

soda can full of sugar

Not convinced? Check out the following studies:

  • Neuroscience published a study which found that a diet high in sugar can greatly affect your brain's ability to perform everyday cognitive tasks (learning, the formation of new memories, etc.), as excess sugar reduces the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a chemical upon which several important neurological processes depend.

  • A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that participants who drank diet soda gained almost three times the abdominal fat over a nine-year period as those who didn't consume diet drinks.

  • A 2012 study from Harvard University yielded interesting results: participants who drank the largest amounts of soda were 20 percent more likely to have a heart attack than participants who drank the least amount of soda.

  • A 2012 study by Dr. Zumin Shi, a researcher at the University of Adelaide, found that the consumption of soft drinks is linked to an increased chance of asthma and/or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder.

  • An eight-year study of 90,000 women by the Nurses Health Study found that participants who drank one or more servings of a sugar-sweetened soft drink per day were twice as likely to have developed Type 2 Diabetes during the study as those who rarely consumed these beverages.

Health Risks of Regular Soda

Lona Sandon, RD, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, tells Health.com that the excess calories found in regular soda can be problematic when it comes to your health.

"The calories in regular soda," she says, "are coming entirely from added sugar, and you're not getting any value in terms of vitamins or minerals."

overweight man drinking soda

According to Medical Daily, soda consumption is also linked to diabetes and tooth decay, as well as the thinning of bones. Sandon believes that the negative effects of regular soda on your bones "may have something to do with the phosphorus in soda, or it could be that people are drinking soda instead of other beverages—like milk—that have nutrients necessary for healthy bones."

Health Risks of Diet Soda

While diet soda promises zero calories and therefore may feel like a healthy alternative, it's important to note that diet drinks have many of the same health risks associated with regular soft drinks. Tooth decay, bone thinning, and heart disease are all consequences of the heavy consumption of diet beverages.

And while you may think switching to diet soda is an ingredient for weight loss, certain studies have found that the opposite is true—diet drinks can actually contribute to abdominal fat.

The reason why? Scientists like Dr. Helen Hazuda, professor of medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, believes that the added sugars in regular soft drinks trigger feelings of fullness. On the other hand, the artificial sweeteners found in diet drinks "weaken the link in our brains between sweetness and calories."

woman on scale

As if weight gain isn't reason enough to cut back on your soda intake, Time magazine notes that excess fat in the belly area is especially alarming, as this "visceral fat" is associated with inflammation, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

Tips for Kicking Your Soda Habit

No one said quitting soda would be easy, but there are several steps you can take to make your transition to a soda-free life a bit less grueling.

1. Wean Yourself off Soda

woman drinking water

Quitting soda completely—or even just cutting back on your intake—is no simple task, so it's important to be realistic when setting your goals.

Nutritionist and author Stephanie Sacks dissuades those who seek to quit drinking soda from quitting cold turkey "just as you would anything you've become dependent on."

For those who typically drink more than one serving of soda per day, Sacks recommends cutting your intake down to one soda per day.

After two weeks, try switching your consumption to just three sodas per week. The gradual adjustments to your diet, she says, should result in "real, sustainable change."

2. Track Your Calories (and Do the Math)

While you probably consider what your body takes in from food, it's easy to dismiss all the calories you ingest when you indulge in a sugary soft drink.

diet and nutrition w/ phone app

A 12-ounce can of soda contains around 140 calories, while a 20-ounce bottle typically contains around 240 calories.

NPR notes that a 20-ounce soda would take 5 miles of walking—or 50 minutes of running—for a 100-pound adolescent to burn off. (It would take slightly less time for an adult.)

If you find that you don't tend to take into consideration the effect that these drinks can have on your daily calorie consumption, a calorie-counting app like MyFitnessPal or Lose It! may be beneficial for you. Just remember to track everything you put into your body.

3. Switch to a Healthier Alternative

One great alternative to soda is unsweetened iced tea. It will give you the caffeine rush you may have come to depend on in the morning, and the phytochemicals in tea offer real health benefits. Feel free to add mint, lemon, stevie, honey, or any of from these fun alternatives from AllWomensTalk.com.

green tea

Green tea is a great option, as well, as it's rich with nutrients and antioxidants. According to Authority Nutrition, the health benefits of green tea are nearly endless. Frequent consumption can improve brain function, increase fat burning, and even decrease your risk of developing certain types of cancer.

For the occasional soda drinker, switching to a natural soda brand may be an overall healthier choice. These brands tend to skip the artificial ingredients, excessive amounts of sugar, and high-fructose corn syrup. Sacks recommends Grown Up Soda, Blue Sky, or Santa Cruz Organics.

4. Spice up Your Water (and Drink a Glass Before Consuming Soda)

water with fruit

Not only is water essential to your health, but downing a glass before drinking a soda can help you feel fuller and reduce your soda cravings.

If you don't love the taste of plain H2O, try spicing it up with lemon, lime, orange, watermelon, cucumber slices, berries, or any other delicious alternative.

If carbonation is your weakness, Sacks recommends switching to plain or flavored seltzer water. For flavor, she says to "toss a little fruit juice in there...and eventually change that juice to fresh-squeezed citrus."

5. Seek Support From Your Family and Friends

friends eating dinner

Just as starting a diet with a friend is often a great method of helping you stay on track, so is sharing your plans to quit drinking soda with your family and friends. Since soda is often consumed in social situations, your peers can be a great source of support and accountability. And who knows—they may even join you in cutting back or quitting soda altogether!

6. Avoid Places and Situations That Trigger Your Soda Habit

woman at vending machine

You may find that you tend to consume your favorite sugary beverage in the same locations or in the same situations.

For example, if you pass the vending machine at work, you may frequently find yourself down a dollar and up a soda. If you have to switch up your route to avoid the vending machine, do it! If you can't avoid walking past, take the change out of your pockets before you do.

The fact is that if soft drinks are readily available to you, it will be much harder to quit. So bring a healthier alternative to work, skip the soda aisle at the grocery store altogether, and make any necessary changes to ensure your health in the new year.

You can do it!

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