The Hard Truth About Soft Drinks.

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Yummy soda. Sweet. Bubbly. Cold. Refreshing. So satisfying when you're hot, thirsty, and sweaty. 

I remember every summer as an adolescent, riding horseback into the woods with my friends at camp. We would gallop in the fields, shrieking sounds of utter joy. We would return dusty and drenched in sweat and couldn't wait to hit the soda machine. The sound of the bottle sliding down the shaft and the cold, sweet sensation of the soda would be the perfect finish to a great morning.

I haven't had a soda now for many decades. Although they still hold a sweet nostalgia for me, I have learned all the reasons to stay clear of them. And I want to share them with you, just in case you--or someone you love--still delights in these deceptive beverages.

Hard to Swallow  

The truth about soda may be hard to swallow. In fact, every ingredient can be harmful to your health. One such ingredient is genetically modified (GMO) high fructose corn syrup and/or sugar. Independent scientists have found that in animals, GMOs are linked to digestive tract damage, accelerated aging, infertility, and many other health problems. (See my blog on GMOs). High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is also linked to a 34% increased risk of metabolic syndrome. This includes elevated blood sugar levels, increased blood pressure, excess belly fat, and obesity. In turn, all of these symptoms greatly increase the risk for Type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, and stroke. 

There's more. Research indicates that drinking soda with HFCS is associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, now described as the most common chronic liver disease in the Western world, affecting 20-30% of Americans. HFCS is also associated with elevated triglyceride levels, and increased uric acid levels, which is linked to gout.

In addition, all cola soft drinks contain phosphoric acid, which is what gives them their tangy taste, and slows the growth of molds and bacteria. Unfortunately, it's also a corrosive acid and can interfere with the body's ability to absorb calcium, thus possibly contributing to osteoporosis. Too much phosphoric acid is also linked to heart and kidney problems, and can accelerate aging.

Then there is the caramel coloring that gives cola drinks their appealing brown hue. But recent studies are not as appealing. They show a correlation between the chemicals in caramel coloring and cancer in animals. Not that the coloring used in other soft drinks is any better. Over time, all of them can contribute to serious health issues.

The Diet Soda Fallacy

And just when you thought is was safe to go back to the soft drink aisle...diet soda is even worse than regular soda!

First, diet soda doesn't help you lose weight.  To the contrary, it encourages weight gain. Two or more diet sodas a day can increase your waistline by a whopping 500%! The artifical sweeteners in diet soda can actually make you crave more sugar, overeat and gain weight as a result. There's also a psychological component. If you drink diet beverages on a regular basis, there's a tendency to indulge in other high-calorie foods. The thinking is that since the soda has no calories, you can afford to splurge on treats that do. It doesn't work.

Second, nearly all diet sodas contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, which are proven to be seriously toxic to your body, your brain, and even your emotional balance and wellbeing. More specifically, they are linked to an increased risk of stroke and dementia, among other health problems.

A True Story  

I'd like to share a personal and very relevant story. I have a family member who is a long-distance runner. At one time he was a great fan of diet orange soda. He also had a history of producing and passing painful kidney stones--as often as three times a year. This went on for decades. He would run great distances, and then replace naturally lost body fluids with soda. Always soda, never water. From my experience and research, I knew that soda could cause kidney stones. And yet, not one of his urologists ever asked him what beverages he drank. Instead, they were preparing him for exploratory surgery to get to the root of his problem: why was he forming these stones on a regular basis? I advised him to wait on the surgery, stop the soda, and replace it with bubbly mineral water, seltzer, or water. He was addicted to his soda, as many people are--both sugar and sugar substitutes are highly addictive--and reluctant to give it up. But he agreed...and hasn't had a kidney stone in over eight years! Once, to see if it was still a problem, he bought a six pack of his beloved soda. By the following week, he was already starting to form and pass gravel. He is no longer tempted and hasn't had a soda since.

Quench with Caution

Be cautious of other drinks that are laden with sugar, artificial sweeteners, and other chemicals. Check out the ingredients in iced teas, lemonades, fruit drinks, coffee drinks, energy drinks, vitamin drinks, drinks that restore electrolytes, and high-caffeine drinks. There are some that are pretty good--such as unsweetened iced teas--but overall these drinks provide too many empty calories and can be quite toxic to your health.

Spring into Action

Still thirsty? Give your mind and body a break by ditching the soda, the sugary soft drinks, and the artificially sweetened drinks. Replace them with naturally flavored bubbly water. Add some lemon. Make your own iced tea. You can also try that fabulously delicious, time-honored thirst quencher that always seems to hit the spot: spring or filtered water. Your body needs it, it's good for you, and you can drink it like it's, well, water. Now that's truly refreshing.