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The Truth About Soda

posted Jun 30, 2015, 6:36 AM by Julia Quam   [ updated Nov 4, 2015, 12:34 PM ]

It’s no secret that soda isn’t a health food. But how bad is it really?

Soda and other sugary drinks are major contributors to obesity, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Consider a typical 20-ounce soda, which contains over 250 calories, virtually all of which come from over 1/3 of a cup of added sugar. For 250 calories, instead you could have a small apple spread with two tablespoons of peanut butter or 8 multigrain crackers and an ounce of cheese.  You would probably feel quite satisfied after either of these snacks. However, after drinking that 20-ounce soda, you’d probably still be hungry. Research has found that soda is much less filling than the same number of calories of solid food, and that after drinking a soda, most people don’t decrease their intake of other foods to compensate, meaning those 250 calories can add up to significant weight gain.

Soda isn’t only a problem if you’re trying to maintain a healthy weight. Regular soda consumption, even just one can a day, is also associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and gout according to the Harvard School of Public Health, and the risk doesn’t go away completely even if you eat an otherwise healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight. Other sugary beverages like fruit drinks have similar effects.

While the negative health effects of regular soda are well established, diet soda is a bit more controversial. In weight loss intervention studies, people who replace regular soda with diet soda or water typically lose similar amounts of weight (read two studies here and here). However, other research suggests that overweight or obese adults who drink diet soda tend to eat more calories from other sources compared to regular soda drinkers, essentially cancelling out the calories they’re saving by choosing diet soda. You may have also heard about a recent study linking an artificial sweetener to changes in gut bacteria and metabolism. While these findings are unsettling, this article points out several problems with applying the results to humans and the types of diet soda we most commonly drink today. It’s definitely too soon to jump to any conclusions based on this study. Additionally, there don’t appear to be safety concerns with drinking moderate amounts of diet soda.

Our take: while diet soda is probably a better option than regular soda, we still think it’s best to choose drinks that are naturally low in calories or calorie free, like water and unsweetened coffee and tea. Try our recipe for a tasty way to dress up sparkling water and stay tuned for our blog posts later this month, when we’ll discuss our take on juice, sports drinks, and caffeine.  

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