Americans’ obsession with soda is waning, but not everyone is sipping with their health in mind.
According to a study published in November 2017 in Obesity, about 61 percent of children and 50 percent of adults reported drinking soda daily in a 2013–2014 survey, compared with nearly 80 percent and 62 percent, respectively, in a 2003–2004 survey. Overall, 18,600 children ages 2 to 19 and 27,652 adults 20 years old and older were surveyed over the total time period.
Drinking soda can be a detriment to human health. According to a study published in September 2019 in JAMA Internal Medicine, drinking soda is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, colorectal cancer, and all causes of death.
It’s also linked to obesity, notes a review published in August 2017 in QJM, the journal of the Association of Physicians of Great Britain and Ireland. Findings from a review of three small studies and published in the journal Appetite suggested that drinking soda can trigger sweet cravings by dulling your sensitivity to sweet tastes, sparking a vicious cycle of eating foods and drinks with added sugar.
“Soda has no nutrients of value, and therefore, there is no nutritional benefit to having it,” says Kelly Kennedy, RD, staff nutritionist for Everyday Health. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), one can of soda contains 36.8 grams (g) of sugar. “That’s about 1 ½ times more than the American Heart Association recommends a woman have in an entire day,” Kennedy notes.
All of that added sugar intake has damaging effects. A past study found that swapping out just one sugary drink a day for unsweetened coffee, tea, or water may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by as much as 25 percent.
Diet soda fiends aren’t off the hook either. “While diet soda does not contain added sugar or empty calories, as regular soda does, there is some evidence to suggest that it isn’t much better — if at all — than regular soda,” Kennedy says. A past study found that diet soda intake is directly related to abdominal obesity in adults over age 65. The increase in waist circumference among diet soda drinkers was 3 times the amount that it was in nondrinkers.
Earlier research suggested that the artificial sweeteners in diet soda may change how the brain’s reward system processes sweetness.
“While you’re not getting the same amount of calories or sugar from a diet soda that you would from a regular one, the belief is that with diet soda the body senses the sweet flavor and craves the calories that would normally go with that flavor,” notes Kennedy. “As a result, people end up making up for the missed calories in other foods that they eat throughout the day.”
Drinking Soda Goes Along With Other Unhealthy Behaviors
In Kennedy’s opinion, other unhealthy lifestyle factors “often go along with frequent soda consumption, which compounds soda’s effect on health,” she says. “Oftentimes, when someone is regularly having a soda, they’re not making the best food choices either.”
So what are some better choices? There are plenty of other refreshing beverages, with nutritional value, that you can drink instead of soda. It’s still important, though, to consider what’s in your soda substitutes. Replacing soda with high-sugar fruit juices or processed tea and coffee drinks, which often contain added sugar, isn’t much better for your health.
But swapping out soda for drinks that are low in sugar, such as unsweetened iced coffee or tea, can reduce your sugar intake while adding beneficial antioxidants to your diet, notes earlier research. Low-fat or unsweetened soy milk, Kennedy adds, is also a better option, providing vitamins and nutrients, such as calcium, per the University of California in San Francisco.
What to Drink Instead of Soda
Need some inspiration? Get started with these healthier, low-calorie thirst quenchers that are sure to still satisfy your taste buds.