At this point, I think pretty much everyone has gotten the message that guzzling soda is bad for your waistline, but you may be surprised to learn how many other health problems have been linked to drinking “liquid candy.”
The latest addition to soda’s growing list of health hazards is early puberty in girls. A new Harvard University study found that girls who drank more than 1.5 servings of sugary beverages per day experienced their first period about 3 months earlier than those who drank less than 2 servings per week. Sugary drinks may contribute to weight gain and obesity, a known contributor to early puberty, but the researchers found that the effect of sweetened beverages on pubertal age remained even after controlling for participants’ body mass index (BMI), a common measure of body fatness. The results are concerning because starting menstruation at a young age increases a woman’s risk for breast cancer later in life.
This new finding joins a litany of other reasons that people of all ages should kick their soda habit once and for all, including:
1. Weight gain. Studies in adults and children have shown that people who increase their consumption of sugary drinks, including soda, gain more weight over time than people who cut back. Sugary drinks are double trouble for your waistline because they are loaded with empty calories from added sugar, and beverages calories don’t fill you up the same way that calories from food do.
2. Type 2 diabetes. Individuals with the highest intake of sugary beverages have a 26 percent greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who drink less than 1 serving per month, according to a 2010 research review. Regular soda drinkers are more likely to be obese, which puts them at higher risk for type 2 diabetes. However, sugary beverages may pose an additional risk because their concentrated sugar load spikes blood sugar and insulin levels.
3. High blood pressure. Frequent drinkers of sugary beverages are more likely to develop hypertension, and research shows that cutting back on soda, lemonade, and other sweet drinks lowers blood pressure.
4. Heart disease. A Harvard University study found that men who drank one (12-ounce) sugary beverage a day were 20 percent more likely to have a heart attack compared to men who didn’t drink any sugar-sweetened drinks, and similar results have been found in women. Fructose, a sugar found in drinks sweetened with both regular sugar and high fructose corn syrup, may be especially damaging to the heart because it promotes inflammation and raises levels of blood fats called triglycerides.
5. Certain cancers. A 2013 study found that postmenopausal women who drank the most sugary beverages were 78 percent more likely to develop the most common type of endometrial cancer compared to women who rarely drank sweetened drinks. In men, drinking one can of soda daily was found to increase the risk of aggressive prostate cancer by 38 percent.
6. Kidney stones. Staying well-hydrated protects against kidney stones, but choosing sugary beverages like soda and fruit punch has actually been shown to increase the risk of stones. The fructose found in sweetened drinks increases urine levels of uric acid, oxalate, and calcium, compounds that can concentrate to form stones.
7. Gout. Sipping one sugary drink per day has been shown to raise both men’s and women’s risk of developing gout, a painful arthritis. Gout is caused by the buildup of uric acid in joints, and a high fructose intake from sweetened beverages is thought to promote uric acid formation.
8. Low bone density. Some research shows that regular soda drinkers have lower bone density and a higher risk of fracture. Soda may take a toll on bones because it displaces more nutritious beverages like calcium-rich milk in the diet.
9. Cavities. Let’s not forget the damage that sugary beverages do to teeth. The heavy dose of sugar found in soda, lemonade, fruit drinks, and sweet tea feeds bacteria in the mouth, which ultimately leads to tooth decay. Sodas also contain acids that wear down enamel, making teeth more prone to cavities.
Finding a Healthy Sub for Soda
If you’re still drinking soda but concerned about its health effects, chances are that you have tried to give it up in the past without success. If that’s the case, I urge you to give it another shot, because it really is a change worth making. I always encourage soda lovers (regular and diet) to swap their drink for naturally fruit-flavored seltzers, because they provide the same fizzy fix but are completely free of sugar and artificial sweeteners. If you’ve tried seltzer in the past but find it too bitter, try drinking it daily for a week straight to see if that changes your mind. I find that it takes people about that long to adjust to the taste. You can also try experimenting with different flavors. In my experience, the tart pomegranate and cranberry flavors are most appealing to seltzer newbies.
If you or a loved one recently gave up soda, I’d love to hear what worked for you. Please share your experience in the comments section below.