Eat Smart · Nutrition

Soda Overconsumption: Silent and Deadly

As if it weren’t enough to have a choice of three of your favorite soft drinks, try constantly choosing between six or seven in the SU dining halls. Dr. Pepper, Sierra Mist, Mountain Dew, you name it. Soda is not the beverage of choice for everyone but after listening to the Coke versus Pepsi debate several times at the dinner table, it’s fair to assume that people love soda and can even get riled up about it.

Unfortunately, this tempting and outwardly innocent-appearing drink has been targeted as a health threat for people of all ages. However, the enormity of soft drink advertising coaxes the American population into believing that these drinks are sexy and associated with fond memories. Who could refuse a can of Coca-Cola plastered with Santa’s jolly face, luring us in to take a sip during the holidays? And how could we not taste every flavor of Fanta after watching the commercials with the beautiful “Fantana” singers in their flashy outfits? Whether the culprit of widespread soda consumption is the success of advertising or the sugary goodness of soda alone, America needs to gain a better understanding of the health defects that go along with consumption and prepare to cut down.

Did you know that a typical 20-ounce soda contains 15 to 18 teaspoons of sugar and upwards of 240 calories? Upgrade to a 64-ounce fountain drink and you could be consuming up to 700 calories in minutes. Of course, people have become accustomed to larger portion sizes than were sold over half a century ago. Before the 1950s, standard soft drink bottles were 6.5 ounces. Now, certain acts have been passed in order to reduce the sale of this “liquid candy,” including Mayor Bloomberg’s and eight members of New York City’s mayoral-appointed health board in 2013, prohibiting the sale of sweetened drinks greater than 16 ounces. Although many locals responded negatively, Bloomberg stood behind the trend in limiting consumption for the safety of his citizens.

Soda is tied to more than just its “high-calorie” and “high-sugar” labels. Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, recently made a strong case that there is sufficient evidence that increasing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption will increase the prevalence of obesity and obesity-related diseases like Type 2 Diabetes. The Nurses’ Health Study, which tracked the health of nearly 90,000 women over two decades, found that women who drank more than two servings of a sugary beverage each day had a 40 percent higher risk of heart attacks or death from heart disease than women who rarely drank sugary beverages.

Related health problems can even result from drinking diet soda. Diet soda may save consumers 140-plus calories that they would find in a sweetened drink, except that “artificial sweeteners trigger insulin, which sends your body into fat storage mode and leads to weight gain,” says registered dietician Brooke Alpert, author of The Sugar Detox. The intensity of artificial sweeteners can dull our senses to naturally sweet foods like fruit, leading us to crave more unhealthy foods and therefore increase caloric intake.

The good news? Drinking soda is easily avoidable. It is highly unlikely to find these beverages hidden in other foods found around campus. In addition, there are several alternatives to regular and diet sodas. Club sodas and flavored sparkling waters can act as agents to cut down on sweetened beverages. If soda is your favorite treat, set a goal to only have an eight-ounce glass once or twice a week. The important thing to remember is that many Americans fill up a glass of soda during mealtime and think nothing of the consequences. As an informed reader, though, you will have the ability to weigh your beverage choices more heavily at your next meal.

By Allison Milch