The Skinny on Soda: Is It Really That Bad?

By Genevieve Cunningham

Your Health and Drinking Soda

“Open happiness.” “Only Sprite.” “You got the right one, baby.” Any of these sound a little familiar? These are among the most famous soda slogans in recent memory. As a society who loves the bubbly sweetness that flows from an open can, we’re all too eager to consume a little energy in a bottle. The truth is that marketing for soda consumption began a long time ago. The commercials were fun and memorable. The taste was always described as refreshing or thirst quenching. And it was always endorsed by the hottest movie star or athlete of the moment. Soda marketing is still a thing. Just watch the Super Bowl and count the ads. It’s a product loved by the masses and a total goldmine for soda companies. Win-win -- right? If only it were that simple.

Is Soda Still Popular? It’s Complicated

Though you’d never know it through marketing, the truth is that soda consumption is on the decline. Even though soda was once marketed as a good straight-in-the-bottle choice for babies (seriously, check out the ad), we now know that soda may not actually be the best choice. But even with more knowledge and a slow decline, consumption is still enough (13 billion gallons per year in America) to drive the market. Why?

Like any other product on the market, many people still wonder: Is it really that bad? Most people have been drinking soda since childhood, and their parents also drank soda, as did their grandparents. It’s not cigarettes. It’s not drugs. It’s not alcohol. How bad could it be? The facts are complicated. If you like to enjoy a morning Pepsi or an afternoon Dr. Pepper, take a look at the rundown on the effects of keeping soda as a staple in your diet.

  • It ruins your teeth - According to multiple dental sources, consuming soda regularly can break down the enamel on the teeth. And if you’re a diet drinker who thinks it’s just the sugar causing the problem, you’re in for a surprise. Dentists believe it’s the combination of sugar and acid in soda that causes more cavities, wears away the protective layer, and results in dark spots on your pearly whites.
  • It leads to weight gain - Various anecdotal evidence supports the idea that giving up soda leads to weight loss. And in the reverse, drinking soda may cause weight gain. Soda contains what many experts call “empty calories.” These are calories that are included in your daily consumption, but provide zero nutritional advantage. And once again, diet drinkers are not in the clear. Experts also believe that the sweet taste of soda -- yes, even diet -- conditions the body to crave sugar, which obviously leads to an overall steady weight gain.
  • It can lead to diabetes - The research is clear: Even one soda per day raises the lifetime risk of developing diabetes. Why? Blame it on the sugar. Soda contains massive amounts of sugar per container. This is one area where diet may actually have an advantage. Cutting sugar can be done by switching to diet soda instead, which may not lead to the same risk of disease.
  • It’s addictive - Soda is addictive for a few reasons. First, many sodas contain caffeine, which in and of itself is an addictive substance. Second, soda also contains large amounts of sugar, which is another addictive substance. Finally, soda is often attached to habits. When we drive, we reach for a soda. When we watch sports, we choose soda. There are soda triggers everywhere. And since breaking habits is often the hardest part of breaking addictions, it’s one of the hardest parts about giving up soda as well.

What’s the Consensus on Consumption?

If we’re being honest with ourselves, that’s quite a list of reasons to skip soda. For many, it’s enough to make the switch to water or tea or other healthier options. But before we completely bash your favorite product, soda might have one redeeming quality: For many, it’s simply the lesser of two or more evils.

Sure, soda is bad for you. But if you’re trying to stop drinking energy drinks, then soda is the better choice. If you’re a former addict who has given up drugs or alcohol, by all means, drink the soda. The key is to be smart. If you can cut back or give it up, do it. You’ll boost your health and probably feel better too.

Soda really is bad for your health whether it’s a cola or uncola. Is it the worst thing in the world? No. Should it be in your diet? Also no. It doesn’t bring any advantages to the average person and, in fact, only brings potential harm. Limit the soda in your life and you’ll probably find that Coca-Cola was right -- ”Life tastes good.”

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