Soda/pop/soft drinks are sold everywhere, their advertisements are everywhere, and people all over the world drink them. In fact, they outsell every other manufactured beverage. (1) It’s an old, multi-billion dollar business.
In some countries, soda consumption is on the decline due to health awareness and weight concerns. In others, people are drinking more than ever have before. Last year, Argentina topped the list of soda drinkers at 155 liters per person per year. The US was a close second at 154 liters per capita. (2) This probably isn’t a list on which you want to be Number One.
The Business of Soft Drinks
Consider for a moment the business of soda and the amounts of money involved on both sides of the transaction. Big Soda (led by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo) has tremendous political power, exerting influence over your life whether you drink soda or not. (3)
If you doubt that, it may surprise you to know that the soft drink industry is associated with organizations like the American Diabetes Association, CDC Foundation, Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, and the American Heart Association.
Such associations might lead you to believe that soda isn’t as bad as you’ve been told. That’s the point.
Respected institutions lend credence to the assertion that moderation is okay and no food is actually “bad” for you if consumed in small amounts. If you eat added sugars, they say it’s okay if you exercise more that day or cut back on other calories to offset the calories. This approach to diet has been termed “energy balance”.
Even the US Centers for Disease Prevention and Control is on their side:
“You can enjoy your favorite foods even if they are high in calories, fat or added sugars. The key is eating them only once in a while, and balancing them out with healthier foods and more physical activity.” (4)
Similarly, this was published by the American Heart Association:
“You can use sugars to help enhance your diet. Adding a limited amount of sugar to improve the taste of foods (especially for children) that provide important nutrients, such as whole-grain cereal, low-fat milk or yogurt, is better than eating nutrient-poor, highly sweetened foods.” (5)
Now, something from the American Diabetes Association:
“We recommend choosing zero-calorie or very low-calorie drinks. This includes:
- Unsweetened teas
- Diet soda
- Other low-calorie drinks and drink mixes” (6)
And a joint statement from the American Heart and American Diabetes Associations:
- “Substituting non-nutritive sweeteners for sugars added to foods and beverages may help people reach and maintain a healthy body weight – as long as the substitution doesn’t lead to eating additional calories later as ‘compensation’.
- For people with diabetes, non-nutritive sweeteners used alone or in foods and beverages remain an option and when used appropriately can aid in glucose control.” (7)
It all comes down to money: the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics was funded by Coca-Cola until 2015. It sprinkles the “energy balance” buzzwords throughout its publications.
One of its programs is a joint venture with the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation whose sponsors are:
Bumble Bee Foods, LLC, Campbell Soup Company, ConAgra Foods, General Mills, Inc., Kellogg Company, Kraft Foods, Inc. (now split into Kraft Foods and Mondelēz International), Mars, Incorporated, McCormick & Company, Inc., Nestlé USA, PepsiCo, Inc., Post Foods/Ralston Foods, LLC, Hillshire Brands (previously Sara Lee Corporation), The Coca-Cola Company, The Hershey Company, The J.M. Smucker Company, and Unilever. The retail outlets represented are big box stores such as Walmart and Kroger. (8)
Talk about a conflict of interest.
The Politics of Sugar
There are many examples of the politicizing of sugar and how supposed respected health agencies promote Big Soda. They are in direct contrast to the science behind the impact of added sugars and artificial sweeteners in your diet. We’ll get to that a little later.
The American Journal of Preventive Medicine published this research in 2016:
“From 2011 to 2015, the Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo were found to sponsor a total of 95 national health organizations, including many medical and public health institutions whose specific missions include fighting the obesity epidemic. During the study period, these two soda companies lobbied against 29 public health bills intended to reduce soda consumption or improve nutrition.
“There is surprisingly pervasive sponsorship of national health and medical organizations by the nation’s two largest soda companies. These companies lobbied against public health intervention in 97% of cases, calling into question a sincere commitment to improving the public’s health. By accepting funding from these companies, health organizations are inadvertently participating in their marketing plans.” (9)
Makes it hard to know whom to trust, doesn’t it?
22 Deadly Reasons to Stop Drinking Soft Drinks
Objective studies have linked the consumption of soda specifically—and added sugars and artificial sweeteners in general—to terrible illness and disease, yet these products still sell in huge volumes. Following are some pretty compelling reasons why you should reconsider Big Soda’s lies.
1. Artificial Color and Cancer
Caramel color is what makes dark sodas dark. It’s made by heating sugars, ammonia, and sulfites to caramelize them. During this process, the chemicals 2- and 4-methylimidazole are produced—these are known carcinogens. (10)
They are so bad that the Center for Science in the Public Interest has petitioned the US Food and Drug Administration to ban them:
“Carcinogenic colorings have no place in the food supply, especially considering that their only function is a cosmetic one. The FDA should act quickly to revoke its approval of caramel colorings made with ammonia.” (11)
2. Artificial Color and Vascular Dysfunction
A ten-year University of Pennsylvania study found a correlation between caramel color and adverse effects on the vascular system. Daily soft drink consumption (especially diet drinks) increases the risk of stroke and heart attack by 61%. (12)
3. Artificial Sweeteners
If you think you’re doing a healthy thing by drinking diet soda instead of regular, you are mistaken. Zero calories aren’t the whole picture. Artificial sweeteners are in some ways even more deadly than sugar. They have been linked to neurodegeneration, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and other serious illnesses.
A link has been established between soda consumption and asthma; it’s inconclusive whether this is due to the preservative or high fructose corn syrup Either way, soda takes your breath away—and not in a good way. (13, 14)
Soda and other soft drinks are packaged in cans and bottles lined with BPA (Bisphenol-A) plastic. This substance contains toxins that increase blood pressure, disrupt the endocrine system, and can contribute to weight gain. It’s stored in the body, accumulates, and is difficult to get rid of.
A regular (non-diet) soda is loaded with empty calories. The point of eating is to fuel the body while providing nutrition. One twenty-ounce serving of regular soda contains almost three hundred calories—almost all of it in the form of sugar.
Benzene, a known carcinogen, can form when common benzoate preservatives used in soft drinks are combined with citric/ascorbic acid. (15)
8. Childhood Obesity
There has been a great body of research dedicated to the study of the causes of child obesity, as the number of obese children in the US has tripled since the 1970s. (16) Childhood obesity is of special concern, as it sets the stage for a lifetime of illness. The consensus is that the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is directly associated with obesity in children. (17)
It seems counter-intuitive that a beverage should work the opposite way you think it will. Many soft drinks (cola and other sodas, sweetened teas) contain caffeine, which is a diuretic. Increased urination without offsetting water and nutrient replenishment robs the body of necessary hydration and takes along important minerals like potassium in the process. (18, 19)
A meta-analysis of eleven studies on the effects of sugar-sweetened beverages and the risks for diabetes and metabolic syndrome found unequivocally that sugar-sweetened beverages (soda, energy drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks, etc.) are associated with both (in addition to weight gain). (20)
11. Flame Retardant
Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) has been added to many sports and energy drinks to prevent the other ingredients from separating. It’s been banned in many other countries as a food additive but is still used in the US. Among other things, bromine is a toxic sedative that can put you in a coma. (21) It is also used in flame retardants. (22) You may drink to quench thirst and cool down but you almost certainly won’t burst into flames…try this recipe for a homemade sports drink instead.
12. Heart Disease
The regular consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks significantly increases internal inflammation and the risk of heart disease. (23)
13. Kidney Dysfunction
A long-term study (eleven years) conducted by Harvard University found that two or more servings of diet soda per day doubles the incidence of kidney function decline. (24)
14. Liver Disease
15. Blocks Magnesium Absorption
There are huge amounts of phosphoric acid in soda. Magnesium is an essential nutrient that is involved in over 300 metabolic functions in the body, including synthesizing fats, DNA, and RNA; regulating blood pressure, heartbeat, and blood glucose. It works in a symbiotic relationship with calcium and phosphorus. High phosphorus levels in the body block the absorption of magnesium and, in one study, “caused severe calcification of the heart, kidneys, and tongue”. (26, 27)
16. Metabolic Changes
A2013 study of healthy, slim adults found that drinking twenty-six ounces of soft drinks per day for four weeks changed their entire body metabolisms: fat mass, blood glucose, enzymatic activity, and insulin resistance increased while muscle activity decreased. (28) That after just one month.
A Boston University study found that: “In those who drink one or more soft drinks daily, there was an association of an increased risk of developing the metabolic syndrome.” The results were the same whether the drink was regular or diet. (29) This greatly increases the risks for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
18. Mineral Depletion
Cola decreases bone mineral density, which leads to osteoporosis. (30)
Sodium and potassium benzoate are common preservatives used in soft drinks. Sodium benzoate affects DNA (that’s right—the basic, fundamental building block of all life), inactivating it within cells. (31) Potassium benzoate has precisely the same effect when combined with citric acid, another preservative and flavor enhancer. What kills any potential mold or bacterium is literally killing you at the cellular level. In addition, potassium benzoate can cause serious skin and eye irritation and damage. (32) It is a chemical, after all.
20. Tooth Decay
We’ve been told since childhood that eating sugar is bad for our teeth. That’s not entirely accurate: it’s the bacteria that feed on the sugar in our mouths that cause the decay of tooth enamel. Add to that the phosphoric and/or citric acid and other chemicals in soda, and the drink becomes highly acidic (pH level as little as 2.5 on a scale of 14). Acids go to work immediately on destroying tooth enamel and once it’s gone, it doesn’t grow back. (33)
And vast amounts of it. One twelve-ounce soft drink can contain almost eighty grams (that’s sixteen teaspoons!) of sugar—more than twice as much as a candy bar. North American sugar consumption is currently seventeen times more than it was a hundred years ago, with corresponding increases in obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancers, autoimmune disease, and others.
22. Weight Gain
Diet soft drinks are marketed as healthy alternatives to regular sugar-sweetened beverages, helping in weight loss efforts. That is absolute hogwash. One of many studies on the reality of diet sodas’ impact on weight loss found that:
“Diet soft drink users, as a group, experienced 70 percent greater increases in waist circumference compared with non-users. Frequent users, who said they consumed two or more diet sodas a day, experienced waist circumference increases that were 500 percent greater than those of non-users.” (34)
There are SO many delicious alternatives to soft drinks that won’t harm you.
- Carbonated water for fizz with added lemon, lime, or orange
- Kombucha, for flavor and fizz without all the sugar
- Infused water for flavor, sweetness, and nutrition
- Teas (hot or cold) to quench thirst
- Coffee (hot or cold) for caffeine
- Plain old filtered water for hydration
Don’t let Big Soda and its nefarious tentacles squeeze the life out of you.
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