Harmful Effects Of Soft Drinks

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Sodas Are Harmful

Bubbly and sugary, soft drinks are appealing to the eyes, refreshing to drink, and easy on our pockets but they do come at a cost. From obesity, poor bone health to cancer, the excess use of sugar, caffeine, and added colors in the soft drinks can take a toll on your health. Learn the healthy alternatives and keep the health risks at bay!

Thanks to better awareness of their ill effects, soda consumption may have dipped in recent times, but they still reign as one of America’s favorite drinks. Be it a mix for your favorite spirit or grown-up drink or a quick fix for your kid’s birthday party, soft drinks come in handy. But what exactly are they doing to your body?

The Not-So-Sweet Story Of Sugary Sodas

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. Soft drinks usually contain food coloring, preservatives, and caffeine. The “Contains No Fruit” label often broadcasts 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.

With a 12-ounce tin of soft drink containing a whopping 10 teaspoons of sugar, each drink is like eating a dessert or three! And while the FDA does say you can have a maximum of up to 12.5 teaspoons a day, things are changing fast as regulators and consumers wake up to the risks of high sugar intake. The American Heart Association already sets their maximum at half that amount.1 The WHO too has cut their recommendation to a maximum recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of 6 teaspoons – which means one can of soda and you’ve already crossed your daily limit.2

But then, what’s all the fuss about? Here’s why you should be concerned about your soft drink intake.

Glucose Spike 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.3

As one cohort study spanning over 8 years showed, having one or more soft drinks per day translated to a substantial weight gain and an increased risk for type 2 diabetes in women participants.4

Men aren’t getting away with drinking these sugary treats either. A comprehensive review of multiple studies has confirmed that regular intake of such drinks raises your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.5

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 the obesity in children and adolescents.6

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.

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.7

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 two decades, men who consumed soft drinks regularly were found to be 20% more at risk of getting a heart attack.8

Dental Problems

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 them. Children and adolescents are especially susceptible to tooth decay because of their underdeveloped enamel.9

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.

According to one study, regular intake cola can lead to osteoporosis and increased risk of bone fractures.10

Kidney Trouble

The phosphoric acid in colas also causes urinary disturbances, kidney stones, and chronic kidney disease.11

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.12

Since HFCS (which is 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.13

Cancer Risk

The added colors and preservatives in drinks spell more trouble for you. And this is trouble of the worst kind.

  • Colas: 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.14 In a laboratory setting, 4-methylimidazole caused lung, liver, and thyroid cancer in mice.15
  • 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.16 Benzene is a carcinogen that has been found to damage bone marrow cells and cause leukemia in animal studies.17
  • 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.18

Sleeping Trouble

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 whole other set of problems.19

The Dark Side Of Diet Sodas

Fond of diet sodas? Not much to cheer about there either. 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.20 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.21 Artificial sweeteners like sorbitol may also cause irritable bowel syndrome.22

Healthy Alternatives: What Are Your Options?

  • 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.
  • You can even try kombucha, a fermented tea that can heal your gut as well as satisfy your sweet tooth.23 To get that probiotic punch, opt for a yogurt-based smoothie oomphed up with some fresh fruit or honey.
  • 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.

References   [ + ]

1. FDA Is Not So Sweet On Sugars, Consumer Reports.
2. WHO calls on countries to reduce sugars intake among adults and children, World Health Organization.
3. Vartanian, Lenny R., Marlene B. Schwartz, and Kelly D. Brownell. “Effects of soft drink consumption on nutrition and health: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” American journal of public health 97, no. 4 (2007): 667-675.
4. Schulze, Matthias B., JoAnn E. Manson, David S. Ludwig, Graham A. Colditz, Meir J. Stampfer, Walter C. Willett, and Frank B. Hu. “Sugar-sweetened beverages, weight gain, and incidence of type 2 diabetes in young and middle-aged women.” Jama 292, no. 8 (2004): 927-934.
5. Malik, Vasanti S., Barry M. Popkin, George A. Bray, Jean-Pierre Després, Walter C. Willett, and Frank B. Hu. “Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes a meta-analysis.” Diabetes care 33, no. 11 (2010): 2477-2483.
6. Malik, Vasanti S., Matthias B. Schulze, and Frank B. Hu. “Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain: a systematic review.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 84, no. 2 (2006): 274-288.
7. Surrogate Markers for Cardiovascular Disease, American Heart Association.
8. De Koning, Lawrence, Vasanti S. Malik, Mark D. Kellogg, Eric B. Rimm, Walter C. Willett, and Frank B. Hu. “Sweetened beverage consumption, incident coronary heart disease, and biomarkers of risk in men.” Circulation 125, no. 14 (2012): 1735-1741.
9. Sip All Day, Get Decay, American Dental Association.
10. Tucker, Katherine L., Kyoko Morita, Ning Qiao, Marian T. Hannan, L. Adrienne Cupples, and Douglas P. Kiel. “Colas, but not other carbonated beverages, are associated with low bone mineral density in older women: The Framingham Osteoporosis Study.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 84, no. 4 (2006): 936-942.
11. Saldana, Tina M., Olga Basso, Rebecca Darden, and Dale P. Sandler. “Carbonated beverages and chronic kidney disease.” Epidemiology (Cambridge, Mass.) 18, no. 4 (2007): 501.
12. Moeller, Suzen M., Sandra Adamson Fryhofer, Albert J. Osbahr III, and Carolyn B. Robinowitz. “The effects of high fructose syrup.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 28, no. 6 (2009): 619-626.
13. Bray, George A., Samara Joy Nielsen, and Barry M. Popkin. “Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 79, no. 4 (2004): 537-543.
14. Smith, Tyler JS, Julia A. Wolfson, Ding Jiao, Michael J. Crupain, Urvashi Rangan, Amir Sapkota, Sara N. Bleich, and Keeve E. Nachman. “Caramel Color in Soft Drinks and Exposure to 4-Methylimidazole: A Quantitative Risk Assessment.” PloS one 10, no. 2 (2015): e0118138.
15. FDA Urged to Prohibit Carcinogenic “Caramel Coloring” The Center for Science in the Public Interest.
16. Data on Benzene in Soft Drinks and Other Beverages, U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
17. Benzene and Cancer Risk, American Cancer Society.
18. Kregiel, Dorota. “Health safety of soft drinks: contents, containers, and microorganisms.” BioMed research international 2015 (2015).
19. Caffeine and Sleep, National Sleep Foundation.
20. Sweetener scrutiny: Are sugar substitutes a helpful tool or an ineffective crutch? American Medical Association.
21. The truth about aspartame, National Health Service.
22. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) fact sheet, US Department of Health and Human Services.
23. Childs, Eric, and Jessica Childs. Kombucha!: The Amazing Probiotic Tea That Cleanses, Heals, Energizes, and Detoxifies.