While we may never come to a consensus on whether to call it soda or pop, medical practitioners can agree that heavy consumption of sugary carbonated beverages can have negative consequences on our health. Robert I. Danoff, DO, an osteopathic family physician from Philadelphia, outlines the severe health complications that have been linked to soft drink consumption and provides tips for a healthier lifestyle.
"Excessive soft drink consumption, especially among children, is a serious problem in our nation," explains Dr. Danoff. Over 50% of 8-year-olds consume soft drinks daily, and a full third of teenage boys drink at least three cans of soda a day. Even though school systems in Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and others are leading the way by eliminating soft drinks from the choices available at school, a significant number of public and private middle schools continue to endanger the health of our children by selling sugary carbonated beverages.
Dr. Danoff points out the consequences involved with prolonged soft drink consumption:
1. Lowered Bone Mass Density and Bone Fractures in Children
The sugar and high-fructose corn syrup found in sugary carbonated drinks contribute to health problems, and several studies show that simple carbonation may have adverse effects on your bones. "There is indeed a positive correlation between children’s bone fracture risk and soft drink consumption," says Dr. Danoff. "Decreased intake of milk and excessive consumption of sugary carbonated beverages can lower bone marrow density and increase the risk of developing osteoporosis later in life, especially in women."
2. Weight Gain and Correlating Diseases
According to Dr. Danoff, regular intake of these sugary beverages sets off a chain reaction in the body that can potentially lead to many diseases. "Sugar increases insulin levels, which can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, premature aging and many more negative side effects," he says.
3. Erosion of Teeth Enamel and Stomach Lining
Excessive consumption of sugary carbonated beverages also increases the risk of dental problems, especially in children. "The phosphoric acid in carbonated soda can interfere with calcium absorption and weaken teeth," says Dr. Danoff. The acid strips teeth of enamel, leaving them brittle and sensitive to pain. Once enamel breaks down, bacteria can invade and cause decay.
The many acids in soda are also known to exacerbate gastroesophageal reflux disease and ulcers. "Phosphoric acid from these drinks is in fact an anti-nutrient, as it neutralizes the hydrochloric acid in your stomach and destroys the capacity of the body to absorb essential elements like iron, calcium and magnesium. Damaged stomach function can result in indigestion, bloating and worsening of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and several other stomach problems," says Dr. Danoff.
Eliminating Soft Drinks for Better Health
"For many, 20% or more of the daily calories they consume can be attributed to soft drinks. Eliminating sugary carbonated beverages from your diet is almost always the first step towards improved health," advises Dr. Danoff. Instead of reaching for a soft drink, he recommends calorie-free beverages rich in antioxidants such as green tea, or simply water.
So how can you break your soft drink addiction? Dr. Danoff suggests the following tips to reduce your carbonated beverage intake and improve your health:
Fill a large bottle or container with water. Carry this bottle with you and drink from it periodically.
Flavor your water with lemon, cucumber slices, or pieces of ginger or mint.
Track your water and soda consumption every day until you have successfully removed soda from your diet. Set a goal for how many glasses of water you want to drink a day, and choose a reward for meeting that goal.