Why are sodas unhealthy?

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Dear Dr. Mo: I drink soda every day and I love its sweet taste. I keep hearing this is bad for my health. If that’s true, why is that so? 

Dear reader: Yesterday I was out riding my bicycle with several hundred other cyclists of all ages to mark the beginning of the European Mobility Week. There were people of all kinds of fitness levels and from different parts of the world. There were even entire families with children on bikes big and small and we all took a nice ride down the streets of the city while the traffic was closed just for us. Perfect.

Sodas are sweet – too sweet for health

What a celebration of health and exercise, I thought to myself.

The ride was over in about 45 minutes as we had arrived to our destination in one of the city’s big parks outside the central area. What happened next inspired me to write today’s post and answer your question.

Organizers were thoughtful enough to prepare a supply of drinks to deliver for free to all the thirsty cyclists. There were several types of sodas available and bottles of water.
90% of people took sodas and very few opted for water. Children, adults, seniors.. without exception.

Drinking 500 ml of soda after 45 minutes of nice bike ride entirely defeats the health-related purpose of biking and erases the potential health benefits one may have incurred on a bicycle.

Now, why is soda so unhealthy?

Soda is the single biggest contributor to an unhealthy diet, and it is one of the highest empty calorie sources you can have, supplying you with hundreds of calories and literally no nutrition – cheating your body into a state in which it has a lot of calories to deal with while feeling empty of nutrition – basically hungry.

Men who drink sugary beverages daily are more likely to develop heart disease than those who don’t and women who are daily drinkers of soda run a significant risk of increased triglycerides and belly fat, both related to elevated blood pressure and subsequent heart disease, possible Type 2 diabetes etc.

A can of typical soda contains around 40 grams of sugar or about 10 sugar cubes (while a 500 ml bottle contains around 65 grams or 16 sugar cubes!) This much sugar creates a sudden surge in your blood sugar levels prompting your insulin levels to spike in response. This can lead to increased belly fat and insulin resistance; insulin resistance is a precursor for Type 2 diabetes.
It can also put a strain on you insulin-producing cells in Pancreas and under certain conditions could accelerate the onset of Type 1 diabetes.

Soda increases the risk of weight gain and obesity without providing a gram of good nutrition value. If you rode a bike for 45 minutes and burnt some calories (several hundred at best) these would be instantly reclaimed with a bottle of soda. Chances are, you would have taken in more calories than you’d spent cycling.

Dental health is also at risk while drinking soda – so much sugar in these drinks provides a fruitful ground for cavities and acids from sodas erode your shiny white dental enamel.

As these sugary beverages are especially attractive to kids and I’ve seen many refreshing themselves with free sodas at the end of our bike ride, it is worth cautioning parents that introducing regular soda drinking at young age may create a lifelong soda- drinking habit which can lead to obesity and many chronic diseases later in life. The number of children who are overweight or obese is increasing at a rate that’s worrisome. These kids are at much higher risk for developing serious health problems as adults — high blood pressure, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes – these children can even develop Type 2 diabetes (typical for adults over 50) when they’re still children.

Caffeine in many of these sodas can cause children to feel restless and could disturb their sleep. Some adults may be sensitive to caffeine as well and become nervous, jumpy and with sleeping difficulties (especially in combinations with coffee or teas).

Being and staying healthy is a constant work, and many of our daily choices influence the outcome of this work. Next time if you find yourself in a situation to choose between sodas and water, go for water.

Yours in health,

Dr. Mo

  • Biker

    Question: You did not specify which kind of Sodas. Are the “light” Sodas also part of your analysis???

  • AskDrMo

    Yes both light and diet have been linked to weight increase and rise in blood levels of triglycerides. It is not yet certain why they do this but one assumption is that people who drink such sodas tend to have an over all unhealthy diet and lifestyle habits and that all combined leads to weight increase.
    As for other sodas, all sugary beverages come into play, both carbonated and non carbonated, juices, energy drinks etc. Fountain drinks are even worse as we tend to drink more of it – and these add a huge amount of ’empty’ calories to our bodies.
    Best is to make your own fruit juice if you like sweet drinks and better still is to drink water and teas. This is not an easy thing to do in today’s world but the more daily soda we replace with water or tea – the better!