We’re all partial to a glass of soda every now and again – but not everyone partakes in fizzy drinks in moderation. Indeed, almost half of the U.S. population consumes soda every day. If you can count yourself among that number, then you may want to reconsider your dietary habits. That’s because drinking soda can have a dramatic impact on your body and potential long-term health consequences – including tooth decay, heart disease and diabetes.
There’s a reason doctors, health experts and bodies such as the World Health Organization regularly emphasize the need for a balanced diet. And it’s not just to make sure your taste buds enjoy some variety. It’s crucial to make sure you’re getting the right nutrients – especially vitamins and minerals – in order to fend off diseases and protect your body.
A balanced diet doesn’t begin and end with food, however. What you drink is also incredibly important, because certain beverages can give us a multitude of benefits – while others, such as soda, do the opposite. And that’s no real secret; ask anyone which of soda or water is healthier, for instance, and nearly everyone will say water.
Nonetheless, that doesn’t stop plenty of people from consuming vast amounts of soda. According to a 2012 poll by Gallup, in fact, 48 percent of Americans consume soda every single day. And of that number, one-fifth drink more than one glass per day, with the daily average coming in at an eye-opening 2.6 glasses.
Why are those statistics worrying? Well, there are all sorts of reasons why soda is bad for you – but virtually zero reasons why it’s good for you. “It has absolutely no nutritional value,” American Dietetic Association spokeswoman Keri M. Gans told Everyday Health in 2008. “Soda is filled with sugar and calories and nothing else.”
Those calories can add up quickly. The simple sugars in soda don’t trigger your brain’s satiety centers in the same manner as more complex sugars such as glucose. So while your body might tell you to stop eating after a while, it won’t tell you to stop guzzling soda. It’s no surprise, then, that several studies have shown a link between soda consumption and obesity.
Meanwhile, a 2011 study by the School of Public Health at London’s Imperial College suggested that consuming more than one fizzy drink per day causes middle-aged adults to have higher blood pressure. After examining the dietary habits of more than 2,500 participants in the U.K. and U.S., the researchers discovered that a person’s blood pressure continues to increase in line with the amount of soda they drink.
It probably won’t come as a surprise to hear that soda is bad news for your teeth, too, primarily because it’s so acidic. And that acid will wreak major dental havoc, particularly when combined with the sugar that soda’s laced with. Even diet soda can harm your fangs, though, thanks to its vast quantities of citric acid it often contains.
If you’re looking to fight off the natural ageing process, meanwhile, soda is basically the last thing you should be reaching for. “[Fizzy drinks] cause premature ageing as the sugar damages our skin cells and collagen bonds,” Dr. Anita Sturnham told health website Get The Gloss in February 2018. But it’s not just your physical appearance that fizzy drinks can affect.
Indeed, there are also potentially deadly long-term consequences to guzzling too much soda. Plenty of studies have suggested that the consumption of fizzy drinks can increase the risk of heart disease, for instance. Other research, meanwhile, has found a consistent connection between soda and type 2 diabetes – in fact, as little as one can a day can make a difference.
What’s more, soda can allegedly increase your chances of getting cancer. A 2012 investigation involving more than 60,000 people found that the risk of pancreatic cancer rose by almost 90 percent in participants who drank at least two fizzy drinks every week. And because blood sugar spikes can lead to an enhanced risk of dementia, excessive soda consumption also puts you at risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
There are physical downsides that you can’t see with the naked eye, too. The caffeine and phosphorous contained in many sodas can lead to osteoporosis, or weak bones – something you probably won’t know you have until you break something. And if you drink soda at the expense of milk in your diet, a consequent lack of calcium might only be compounding that problem.
Even before conditions such as dementia have chance to set in, soda consumption can have a negative influence on your mental health. “The over-consumption of sugar has been linked to depression, poor memory formation and learning disorders in studies,” Dr. Sturnham said. If you’re feeling down, then, you might want to kick the soda habit and see if it makes a difference.
And beyond all the physical effects on your body and mind, there’s also the financial cost. According to NationMaster, the average American drinks a whopping 216 liters of soda every year – or around 20 ounces per day. Now let’s say you buy that entirely from vending machines. Going by numbers from personal finance website Wise Bread, that means you’re spending more than $500 per annum, just on soda.
If you’re reading all this thinking that diet sodas are the way to go, then you’ll probably want to reconsider. They really aren’t any better, instead just bringing their own set of problems, alongside a few that they share with regular soda. Diet drinks still contain carbonic and phosphoric acid, for instance, which can cause tooth decay and weak bones.
In fact, diet soda can even be worse for you – there are multiple studies showing that you’re more likely to be overweight if you drink diet soda, even compared to regular soda. While full-fat drinks at least satiate your brain to a degree with their calorific content, diet sodas are usually calorie-free. When you down a diet drink, then, your brain will apparently increase your appetite to compensate.
If you want to lower your soda consumption, there are numerous ways to go about it. But nutritionist Stefanie Sacks warns that cutting yourself off too quickly could be problematic. “People really can become addicted to soda, so you have to be a realist and not an idealist,” she told CNN in 2015. “I don’t recommend going cold turkey. You need to wean yourself off, just like you would anything you’ve become dependent on.”
One way to begin cutting soda out of your daily diet is simply with water. So if you feel the craving for a fizzy drink, down a glass of water instead. Chances are, you won’t want the soda anymore. “A lot of times, people drink soda just because they’re bored, or they’re thirsty, and that’s what’s available or that’s what they’re used to,” Sacks explained.
There are also plenty of alternatives you can swap out the soda for, besides regular still water. Seltzer water, for example, can give you that carbonated sensation without the sugar and calories to match, and you can even add in fruit juice to taste. Similarly, you can jazz up still water by adding frozen fruit and leaving it in the fridge.
Even if water isn’t your thing, you still have other options such as unsweetened tea or milk. Whatever you choose, though, it can’t really be much worse for you than soda. And after you’ve kicked the habit, you can always still treat yourself on special occasions. “If it’s your gotta-have-it food, then by all means splurge on a soda now and then,” Sacks said.