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If you like to get your afternoon jolt with a can of Coke, there’s no easy way to say it: Yes, sugary soda is bad for you.
The latest study found that those who drink sugar-sweetened or artificially-sweetened beverages over long periods of time have an increased risk of death.
The study began in the 1980s and tracked the health of over 118,000 people who were initially free from chronic disease. There were 36,436 deaths over the 30-year study.
The researchers found that for each additional 12-ounce serving of sugary drink, there was a 7 percent increased risk of death from any cause, a 5 percent increased risk of death from cancer, and a 10 percent increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
The somewhat good (or at least better) news is that drinking diet beverages does reduce these risks, but those same diet beverages have been linked to other health concerns, including kidney disease, depression, dementia, and stroke. More on that later.
1. Sugary soda is linked to weight gain
No matter how much soda you drink, it’ll never satisfy your hunger. That’s because many sodas contain high-fructose corn syrup, which doesn’t lower ghrelin, the hunger hormone, the same way glucose (the sugar found in starchy foods) does.
So, drinking soda just adds calories on top of what you actually need to feel full.
What’s more, fructose increases visceral fat — aka belly fat. The higher the amount of visceral fat a person has, the higher their chances are for getting type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Important note: Fructose from fruit is totally OK. Fructose from added sugar is bad.
2. Large amounts of sugar turn into fat in your liver
Yup, your liver can get fat, too. While glucose can be processed by every cell in your body, fructose can only be processed by the liver.
Continuously knocking back those sugary sodas understandably overloads the liver, and can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Think of glucose as the angelic potato on your right shoulder, and fructose (from added sugars) as the devilish candy bar on your left.
3. Sugary soda makes your cells grow resistant to insulin
Drinking a lot of sugar changes the chemistry in your body. For instance, the more you indulge in sugary soda, the more your cells stop responding to insulin, the hormone that allows cells to absorb and use glucose.
When this happens, your pancreas starts pumping out even more insulin to remove the glucose from your bloodstream, causing insulin levels to spike.
4. Sugary drinks are the leading dietary cause of type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes, which is caused by insulin resistance or deficiency, affects millions of people around the world.
And since drinking large amounts of sugary soda increases the likelihood of developing insulin resistance, it also increases your likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.
You might be thinking “no big deal,” because you only sip on a single can of soda every day — everything in moderation, right?
This study found that the risk for type 2 diabetes increases by 1.1 percent for every additional 150 calories of sugar consumed per day, and that’s just one can of soda. The more you know…
5. The more you eat it, the more you need it
News flash: Sugar is addictive. That’s why one cupcake never feels like enough.
When you consume sugar, it releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that gives you feelings of pleasure and reward. That dopamine also trains your brain to want more and more of that sugar. Can we blame it?
A study performed on rats found that sugar may even be physically addictive, similar to the effects of drug use. Just say no to sugar.
6. It increases the risk of heart disease
Studies have established that sugary drinks increase the risk factors for heart disease by raising blood sugar, blood triglycerides, and small dense LDL particles.
And the increase in visceral fat and insulin resistance also raises the risk for heart disease.
7. It increases the risk of cancer
Because cancer goes hand-in-hand with other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, it’s no surprise that drinking sugary soda also increases your risk for cancer.
In postmenopausal women, drinking sugary soda is linked to type 1 endometrial cancer (affecting the inner lining of the uterus).
Studies have also found that drinking sugar increases the risk of cancer recurrence and death in stage-3 colon cancer patients.
8. Sugary soda destroys your teeth
Your dentist isn’t a professional killjoy (well, not only that) — sugar really will rot your teeth. And in the case of sugary soda, phosphoric acid and carbonic acid are added to the mix, which triggers tooth decay.
The combination of acid with sugar makes it extra damaging, as it creates an environment in your mouth that allows harmful bacteria to thrive. Over time, this could be disastrous for your gums as well as your chompers.
9. It causes inflammation in your joints (aka gout)
Gout is a form of arthritis that causes inflammation in the joints, particularly in your big toes. It usually occurs when high levels of uric acid in the blood becomes crystallized.
If you haven’t already guessed, uric acid is increased by our frenemy, fructose.
10. It spikes your blood sugar, which increases the risk of dementia
Research shows that any incremental increase in blood sugar is associated with a higher risk of dementia — the most common form being Alzheimer’s — or a severe decline in memory and other thinking skills.
Sugar-sweetened drinks can trigger rapid spikes in blood sugar, so it makes sense that they would also increase the risk of dementia. Would you trade your precious memories for sugar? Didn’t think so.
It’s hard to say one way or the other. You’d think that without the high sugar content, all the problems would vanish, right?
Research on diet soda is conflicting, largely because most of the studies are observational. This means the findings are based on trends rather than concrete findings about whether diet soda intake is a cause or an association with the real cause.
One thing is certain, though: diet soda provides zero nutritional value to your diet.
Some other findings to consider before reaching for a diet beverage:
- fewer carbs than regular soda
- curbs sugar cravings
- eliminates unnecessary calories and sugars
- may reduce risk of fatty liver
- contains potentially harmful additives
- associated with weight gain
- increases risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome (this is true for both diet and regular soda)
- may increase risk of depression
- increases risk of chronic kidney disease
- aspartame (an artificial sweetener commonly found in diet soda) may increase the risk of diabetes
Diet soda may be a solid option for weaning off of its sugary brethren, but think of it as a stepping stone to hydrating with water.
Basically, any alternative to sugary soda is going to be better for you. But we don’t want to say there are absolutely no benefits.
For example, if you have a friend with diabetes and their blood sugar levels are too low, you can quickly raise their blood sugar with regular soda (not diet).
But in this case, a banana or glucose tablets would also work, and you wouldn’t be subjecting them to any of the health risks we’ve already talked about.
Other potential benefits include:
- It does work to hydrate (though not as well as water)
- Carbonated water and some soda (like ginger ale) can relieve indigestion and nausea.
Again, you’re doing your body a favor if you choose an alternative to both sugary soda and diet soda. Pick your poison antidote:
- Water infused with fruit: No one wants to make the jump from soda to just plain water, but you can upgrade water with lemon, raspberries, or strawberries, or enhance the flavor with herbs like mint. Now you’re getting more hydration and leaving behind the fructose and associated health risks.
- Iced tea: Get the caffeine you want (or need) without the added sugar, which means lay off the sweet tea, too. It also has little to no calories, and is a more refreshing option than water.
- Iced coffee: Leave the sugar packets out (though brown sugar or raw sugar is better than high-fructose corn syrup and table sugar), and get a stronger jolt of caffeine than you would with tea. Coffee contains little to no calories depending on how you take it.
- Sparkling water: It’s hydrating, and carbonation helps relieve constipation and will help curb your soda cravings. It also comes in so many flavors that it’s the closest you’re going to get to a substitute for soda (just make sure it is free of sugar or artificial sweetener).
- Coconut water: Coconut water has been a health trend for a while. When you substitute coconut water for soda, you ditch the sugar, increase hydration and enjoy the natural source of potassium and electrolytes.
Drinking sugary soda comes with too many health risks to be a regular part of anyone’s diet. Not only does it fast-track you to extra pounds, but it puts you at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and many other undesirable health risks.
If it helps get you off the hard stuff, switch over to diet soda. But ideally, you’ll make the switch to sparkling or fruit-infused water, and leave the high-fructose corn syrup behind where it belongs — on the shelf. Your body will thank you.