Everything You Need to Know About Diet Soda, Soft Drinks and Your Health

by Miranda on March 25, 2010

While we may enjoy the taste of soda, the truth of the matter is that it can be very bad for your health. Indeed, no matter your salary level, degree attained or how healthy you think you are, drinking soda — even diet soda — can be bad for your health. If you aren’t careful, you could end up in the hospital as a result of your penchant for drinking soda. So, before you reach for your next Big Gulp, consider the following about soda and how it could be affecting your health:

What’s in Soda?

SodaFirst of all, it is vital that you understand what is in soda. There are a number of substances in diet soda and other soft drinks that can be downright detrimental to your health. Here are some of the substances to be wary of in soda:

  • Added sugar: It may not seem like a big deal, but many soft drinks have added sugar. (This is not present in diet soda, of course.) Sugar is added to help preserve foods, provide bulk, and improve taste. Added sugar often comes in the form of high fructose corn syrup, which we know is not something that is not exactly good for our health, especially in high amounts. Another problem with added sugar, no matter its source, is the fact that if you fill up on soda, you will be less likely to drink milk, which contains healthy nutrients, and water, which is a healthy beverage.
  • Aspertame: Diet sodas use aspertame and other artificial sweeteners to mimic the sweetness of sugar without any calories. However, the FDA lists 92 possible side effects of this substance, and discourages ingestion by young children and pregnant women. While health effects are limited in small amounts, too much has the potential to cause cancer and maybe even brain damage. (But you’d need an awful lot of it to do serious damage to an adult.)
  • Phosphoric acid: This is available only in cola soft drinks. When you drink a diet cola, you are bringing phosphoric acid into your body. It can lower bone density, and erode your teeth. In one study, it was found that two or more cola drinks a day increased the chance of kidney disease.
  • Citric acid: You probably recognize citric acid as something occurring in citrus fruits. So why is it so bad in soda? Well, the citric acid used as “food grade” in soda actually comes from a mold grown on starchy food crops. Its growth is stimulated for use in food products. So, while it probably won’t damage your health too much, if you are concerned about the source of your food, this might matter.
  • Caffeine: In very moderate amounts, caffeine can be helpful to the body, providing some benefits. However, in large amounts, and taken to excess (as is the case in energy drinks, many caffeinated sodas and other beverages), it can cause health problems. Additionally, caffeine can be habit forming in some cases, and many who try to quit drinking soda find themselves suffering some degree of withdrawal symptoms when they stop.

Other ingredients found in diet soda and other soft drinks including potassium benzoate, carbonation, “natural and artificial flavors”, and caramel color. While these don’t have major health effects, many of them have the potential to cause problems when consumed in large quantities, or at the very least contribute nothing substantial to your overall wellness.

Effects on Personal Health

Diet SodaDiet soda and other soft drinks can have real effects on your personal health. One of the biggest dangers to soda drinkers is that of obesity. The calories in soft drinks are more than you might expect, and one of the first things doctors, health professionals and dietitians recommend when trying to lose weight is that you stop “drinking your calories” through soda. The calories consumed through soda are empty, contributing to weight gain, but not providing your body with anything that it needs to function properly.

Even diet soda, without any calories, has its issues. Diet soda has been liked to heart problems, and even drinking diet soda doesn’t protect against weight increase. Indeed, those who drank one diet soda per day saw an increased chance of becoming obese. Possibly, the confidence that comes with a diet drink encourages calorie binges elsewhere.  Another issue is that diet soda contributes to higher blood sugar, even though it uses an artificial sweetener.

The other big problem with diet soda and soft drinks is the possible contribution to diabetes. Links between the development of Type 2 diabetes and soft drinks are substantiated more every day. The increase in blood sugar can easily lead to diabetes. This can even happen with diet soda, which is shown to be linked as well. Additionally, regular soda consumption is linked to other unhealthy behaviors, including less exercise, consumption of junk food and the tendency to smoke.

An occasional soda probably won’t hurt you, but drinking it every day — especially if you are drinking 20 ounces or more — could add up to significant personal health consequences down the road.

Public Health

ColaDiet soda and soft drinks are not just a matter of personal health any more: It is also a public health concern. In fact, the concern over soda is increasing to the point that some policymakers are suggesting a tax on soda. Campaigns to remove soda from beverage machines public schools have been underway for years, and there are a number schools that offer only healthier options, such as water and natural juices.

The reason that soda provides a public health challenge lies in the fact that, as a society, we are becoming less healthy. The consumption of diet soda, soft drinks and other sugary beverages appears to be a factor in childhood obesity. The costs related to treating this condition, not to mention the costs related to adult onset diabetes, are rising, and affecting, to some extent, the health care costs everyone pays. In fact, “adult onset diabetes” is no longer accurate because children and teenagers are developing Type 2 diabetes in increasing numbers.

Another point is that healthy options continue to cost more than unhealthy foods and beverages. As a result, it is little surprise that soda tax supporters are pointing out that increasing the cost of soda would perhaps encourage many to look for healthier options, since the price disparity would no longer be as great. And, of course, there is some thought that a soda tax could help pay for health care reform.

Opponents, of course, point out that even though soda accounts for a large amount of calories consumed by Americans (7%), there are other behaviors that need to be changed in order to combat the rising tide of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Simply reducing soda consumption, they say, isn’t enough.

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