A rare glass of soda is not poison, but a can of cola a day certainly is. If you are in the habit of guzzling cans of soft drinks after a hot day out, with your evening spirit, or to wash down a meal, you need to go easy. The harmful effects of soft drinks extend beyond weight gain and obesity. Soft drinks can cause diabetes, asthma, heart, liver, and kidney disease, bone loss, tooth decay, and cancer.
Any beverage without “hard” alcohol or dairy products in it may come under the bracket of soft drinks, but they usually indicate the sweet, bubbly, carbonated sodas or flavored drinks retailing across the country. The “Contains No Fruit” label ironically tells us about the zero nutritional content of the drink. More worrying than the lack of nutrition, however, is the high level of unhealthy ingredients in the average soft drink and the health risk they pose.
So exactly what health conditions does having soft drinks give rise to? Here’s the list.
1. Increases Risk Of Diabetes And Metabolic Syndrome
The high sugar levels in the average drink cause a sharp spike in your blood glucose level, and without helping you stay satiated for long. As a result, your body feels hunger and fatigue, unleashing a vicious cycle that negatively impacts your waistline and ups your risk of type 2 diabetes.1
Having 1 or more soft drinks per day leads to a substantial weight gain and an increased risk for type 2 diabetes in women.3 In men too, having 1 or 2 servings of such drinks daily increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes (by 26%) and metabolic syndrome.4
Diet soda can make you crave sugar, and you may end up eating more sugary food.
Diet Soda Can Make You Gain Weight
And no, diet soda doesn’t help. Contrary to what they are advertised for, diet sodas may actually make you gain weight. Researchers believe that artificial sweeteners in the sodas don’t satisfy your sweet tooth like normal sugar and you tend to reach for more sugar as a result.5
Plus, aspartame is an artificial sweetener that has been under the scanner since the 1980s. Although experts have cleared it for now, aspartame has been implicated in cancer in some animal studies.6 Artificial sweeteners like sorbitol may also cause irritable bowel syndrome.7
2. Raises Obesity Risk In Children
Since children enjoy guzzling these sugary drinks (often replacing healthy foods), they are at a greater risk. As one study indicates, decreasing soft drinks intake can significantly reduce obesity in children and adolescents.8
Considering many of them have no nutritional benefits, these drinks have no place in children’s diet. The caffeine in many of them can replace the nutrient-dense foods like milk and suppress hunger in children.
3. Raises Risk Of Heart Disease
Obesity, metabolic syndrome, and type-2 diabetes, all of which become more likely with sugary drink consumption, are all markers for cardiovascular disease.9
Those who consume soft drinks regularly have a 20% higher risk of getting a heart attack.
When you’re consuming too much sugar from unhealthy sources, there are fewer chances of your eating nutrient- and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables. This can lead to an imbalance in your lipids and cause heart problems. In a study conducted over 2 decades, men who consumed soft drinks regularly were found to be 20% more at risk of getting a heart attack.10
4. Causes Tooth Erosion
There is yet another reason why too much sugar in your soda can wipe away smiles. The sugar in your sodas, when acted upon by the bacteria in the mouth, becomes an acid. And this acid attacks teeth enamel and weakens it. Children and adolescents are especially susceptible to tooth decay because of their underdeveloped enamel.11
Using a straw to drink a soda, gulping quickly, and brushing your teeth 30 mins after consumption can reduce damage.
Is diet soda the way out? Sadly, no. The damage caused to your teeth when you drink diet soda is the same as consuming meth or cocaine.12 This is because apart from the sugar, sodas also contain citric acid and phosphoric acid as preservatives. This can sometimes make the drink highly acidic. As one study found out, a certain type of cola had a pH of 2.3.13 These acids can wear away the teeth enamel and dentin, the layer beneath, right from the moment they come in contact with the teeth.
For the occasional soda, and even citrus fruit juice, use a straw, take a quick gulp, and brush after 30 minutes.14
5. Leads To Osteoporosis And Bone Fractures
Phosphoric acid is a food additive added to colas to give them a tangy flavor and also to inhibit the growth of microorganisms in the sugar-rich environment. Too much phosphate in the blood can intervene with proper calcium metabolism essential for healthy bones. Caffeine too can interfere with mineral absorption.
As cola can lead to bone loss in older women, it’s important to keep the calcium levels up with calcium-rich foods.
According to one study, having cola daily led to osteoporosis and increased risk of bone fractures in older women, possibly due to an imbalance in the calcium and phosphate ratio. Interestingly, non-cola drinks showed no such effect. Nor did any of these affect the bone mineral density in men. It is possible that smaller bones, less physical activity, and hormonal changes put women more at risk.15 Some of these other causes of bone loss or osteoporosis could also have played a role.
6. Can Cause Kidney Trouble
In a study on 465 patients of chronic kidney disease and 467 healthy people, it was found that drinking 2 glasses of cola daily, but not non-cola beverages, raised the risk of kidney disease by 2 times. This was attributed to the phosphoric acid in colas which causes urinary disturbances, kidney stones, and chronic kidney disease.16
7. Can Cause Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
A common sweetener used in soft drinks is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), made from corn starch. Unlike glucose, which can be broken down by the cells of your body, fructose can only be processed by the liver. When consumed in excess, it can cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition that is also associated with high cholesterol and high blood pressure.17
Since HFCS, being cheaper than sugar, is commonly used to sweeten drinks, some research goes so far as to attribute the obesity epidemic, in large part, to the HFCS in soft drinks.18
8. Increases Cancer Risk
The added colors and preservatives in drinks spell more trouble for you. And this is trouble of the worst kind.
- Cola Color: The trademark caramel color of the popular colas may be aesthetically pleasing but its effects are pure evil: 4-methylimidazole is a carcinogen found in the brown food coloring.19 In a laboratory setting, 4-methylimidazole caused lung, liver, and thyroid cancer in mice.20
The caramel color in cola is a cancer-causing agent.
- Orange-flavored drinks: The vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in cheerful orange drinks is known to react with sodium benzoate, a common preservative found in the soft drinks, to form benzene.21 Benzene is a carcinogen that has been found to damage bone marrow cells and cause blood cancer in animal studies.22
- Plastic bottles and aluminum cans: Plastic and cans used for packaging soft drinks are laden with chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA), the infamous carcinogen also known for disrupting hormones and raising blood pressure.23
9. Can Disrupt Sleep
The daily caffeine limit for kids is 45 mg, which is just 1 can of diet cola.24
The caffeine found in your soft drinks is highly addictive and acts as a stimulant by enhancing the production of adrenaline. That’s good news when you need a pick-me-up to get through that deadline at work or that mammoth home renovation project. But if it’s a regular feature, things takes a turn for the worse. When consumed in excess, caffeine can interrupt your sleep and digestion. And messing with your sleep sets off a chain of problems.25
10. Causes Asthma And COPD
Drinking more than 500 ml (16 oz) a day causes allergies in the airway.
A study in Australia found that consuming more than 500 ml of soft drinks every day was associated with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). The researchers surmised that several factors could be at play here. The high quantity of sugar in sodas could set off allergies in the airways and cause inflammation. Soft drinks preservatives like nitrites, sulphites, and sodium benzoate could worsen these symptoms. The phthalates in the soft drink bottles are also linked to asthma.26 27
What Can You Drink Instead Of Soft Drinks?
- Water or infused water: Nothing beats plain old H2O when it comes to replacing sugary sodas and bottled drinks. Toss in some cucumber and lemon or a handful of pomegranate seeds for some color and a subtle layer of flavor. Iced tea, coconut water, or real fruit juice minus the added sugars are a healthy option if you want something a little more flavorsome.
- Sparkling water: If you just can’t give up on that fizz, drink sparkling water jazzed up with a squeeze of lemon and a dash of herbs. Or try cutting the sugar in a canned or packaged juice by drinking it diluted with sparkling water.
- Probiotic teas: You can even try kombucha, a fermented tea that can heal your gut as well as satisfy your sweet tooth.28 To get that probiotic punch, opt for a yogurt-based smoothie oomphed up with some fresh fruit or honey.