You are feeling low. You need an energy boost. You open a can of soft drink (also called soda or carbonated beverage) and guzzle it down. You feel the energy return and feel invigorated. This fix lasts for a few hours, keeping you alert through the gruelling office hours, until you “need” your fix again. If this sounds familiar, you might be a soda addict.
We all know that soft drinks do not qualify as health drinks (in fact, they do us a host of harm), and yet, we can’t seem to stop drinking them. What is it about the seemingly innocuous fizzy drink that has us hooked?
Soda is nothing but carbonated water that is often flavoured and sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners like aspartame, an acid, and some flavouring. The optional ingredients include fruit or fruit juice, vegetable juices, herbs, spices, artificial flavourings, caffeine, preservatives and colour. About 86% of carbonated drinks consist of water.
Empty calories: Soft drinks provide zero nutritional value.
The bubbles or fizz in a soft drink are due to carbonation—the process of dissolving carbon dioxide in a solution under high pressure. When the pressure is eased, the carbon dioxide is released in the form of bubbles. This makes the drink refreshing.
Sodas are high in calories—an average 330ml serving has around 150 calories.These calories are “empty” as they provide zero nutrition value.
Let us look at some of the other effects of soft drinks on our health.
Citric acid and phosphoric acid are commonly used as cola preservatives. Too much of these acids in your blood causes a pH imbalance, and to neutralize this, the body uses calcium. The calcium is leached from the bones, leading to osteoporosis. Thus, many teenagers complain of weak bones due to excessive soda drinking. Excessive caffeine in the body can cause dehydration. It also leads to large-scale depletion of minerals from the body.
Soda is a diuretic, so it will cause you to urinate more. It also contains sodium, which makes you more thirsty. So, after the initial feeling of refreshment, one starts feeling thirsty, and to counter that, people reach for another soda.
Soda also soaks your teeth in sugar, which causes decay. And honestly, how many of us brush our teeth every time we have a soda? The dental enamel or the outer covering that protects the teeth from decay is eroded by the phosphoric and citric acids present in the soft drink, making the teeth prone to decay and damage.
Consuming just two carbonated drinks (330ml each drink) every week appears to double the risk of pancreatic cancer, says Noel T. Mueller, MPH, a research associate at the cancer control programme at Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, DC, in a study. The study, with Mueller as lead author, was published in December 2009 in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.
Tests on the addictive nature of caffeine performed at the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, Baltimore, US, have found that women who consume at least one cup of any caffeinated beverage a day are more prone to PMS (premenstrual syndrome) and higher the caffeine intake, the more severe the symptoms.
Now if you are feeling virtuous for switching from sugary sodas to diet sodas, a new study published earlier this year in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, which followed 2,564 New Yorkers for a decade, found that people who drank diet soda every day had a 44% higher risk of vascular diseases, including stroke and heart attack, compared to those who completely abstained from diet drinks. The researchers presented their results at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2011, in Los Angeles.
How to quit
Quitting any addiction cold turkey is easier said than done and chances of relapse are high, because the caffeine withdrawal can give you a headache. Also, because of the high sugar content, you always feel high and once you quit soft drinks, you start craving sugar. If you find it difficult to give up in one go, then as a first step, you could shift from regular to diet soda or tonic water or club sodas (like Schweppes), which are lower in calories, have no caffeine and less artificial colouring. But bear in mind that this is not a long-term solution as diet sodas are also harmful to health. As a medical doctor, I have used this technique successfully with a lot of my patients, and found that completely quitting this habit takes about 12 weeks.
Another trick that I teach my patients is to add foods that are high in L-glutamine. This is an amino acid that is found in eggs, fish, chicken, wheat, beans, cabbage, beetroot, spinach, and parsley and helps reduce sugar cravings. Switch to natural and healthier drinks like fresh lime water or coconut water, which is low in sugar and high in potassium and helps in maintaining the pH balance and regulating blood pressure.
I like a glass of sparkling water with a squirt of lime.
Ready reckoner: One can of soda (330ml) per day adds 150 calories. 150 calories multiplied by 365 days equals 54,750 calories each year. One can of soda per day adds 15.64 pounds (or 7.08 kg) to the body every year.
If you aren’t fat, this can be the easiest way to get there!
Vishakha Shivdasani is a Mumbai-based medical doctor with a fellowship in nutrition. She specializes in controlling diabetes, cholesterol and obesity.
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