Today, soft drinks have become the daily drink of choice for many, often becoming even a replacement for water and other healthy beverages. However, more evidence is coming to light that soda can bring about a number of harmful long-term effects.

First, the obvious: weight gain. “Pop is often mistaken as free food. People don’t realize how many calories they have,” says Michelle Dennison, licensed and registered dietitian with the Harold Hamm Diabetes Center. “A 12-ounce can of Dr. Pepper has 210 calories, and most people don’t drink a small can; they drink 20-ounce bottles.”
Women need about 1,500 calories per day to sustain. Soda can take up a large portion of that daily caloric intake.

Second, tooth decay. “Soda contains acid, which pulls out minerals from the teeth and causes breakdown, which creates more cavities,” Dennison says. Soda also contains phosphorus, which is a mineral that determines how calcium is absorbed in the body. An excessive amount of soda in the body is believed to lead to possible increased risk for osteoporosis.

Third, increased risk of disease. Earlier this year, the Center for Science in the Public Interest released a study linking Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and their diet counterparts, to cancer. The consumer-interest group claims that the sodas contain a chemical that has caused cancer in lab rats.

Another recent study shows an increased risk of pancreatic cancer in soda drinkers. Additional studies are currently being conducted addressing the connection between soda and certain diseases, such as renal and cardiovascular disease.

And, of course, drinking soda is linked with increased risk for obesity and diabetes. When meeting with patients who wish to improve their health and lose weight, Dennison’s first move is to cut out all of their caloric drinks. “I first suggest switching to diet soda, which still has acid and chemicals, but it’s a good first change,” says Dennison. “Diet pop has no calories, so it’s a good alternative, but it’s still a chemical like regular pop. It eats acid off batteries just like regular soda, so it can’t be good for our internal organs or our teeth.”

As a way to decrease the amount of daily intake, Dennison suggests slowly cutting back on how much a person drinks per day, one can, or serving, at a time.

“Obviously, our goal is to get everyone off sugary, high-calorie drinks and drink more water and milk,” says Dennison. “But it’s a tough problem because so many people are so dependent.”

Dennison attributes America’s universal soda addiction to the drink’s high sugar content and habits created early in life. “So many people start young drinking soda, at 4 or 5 years old, when they should be drinking milk or water,” she says.

She also suggests substituting soda with flavored water drinks. But “the best alternative is always water,” she says.

Signs that individuals may be drinking too much soda include becoming jittery or getting a headache when they haven’t had their normal daily amount. These could also be symptoms of other ailments or problems, says Dennison, or a combination of many factors.

“When people start to go off of pop, reactions to withdrawal are different,” says Dennison. “Some feel lethargic. Others who may be pre-diabetic or diabetic may notice they have more energy.

“While individuals may experience unwanted reactions in the beginning, they won’t last, and, besides, caffeine is not a chemical we want to be dependent on.”

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