Why Soft Drinks Are Bad for You: Exploring the Health Impacts

Are soft drinks the enemy?

Soft drinks have been around since someone worked out how to push bubbles into water in the 1700’s. Flavours and sugars were added almost straight away to create a drink described as refreshing. These drinks have remained a refreshment ever since and are not about to disappear anytime soon! So what should we know about these drinks so that we can stay wise in spite of the billions of dollars spent to market them to us! 

Well, the first thing people think of when it comes to soft drinks is sugar. Sugar provides lots of calories and one of the problems with ‘drinking your calories’ is that liquids don’t leave you feeling as full as compared to solid food.  This is why it can be so easy to drink seemingly large amounts with no effect on your meal size.  This is particularly an issue for children who eat so intuitively that if they don’t feel full, they eat and drink more.  Children don’t stop eating because they ‘think’ they have had enough. Most of the time they eat when they are hungry and stop when they feel full. But with soft drinks.. there may not be an off switch. So, it is understandable why it is so easy for adults to keep drinking soft drinks while quickly and add extra calories to the daily tally. Research shows that people who drink sugar sweetened beverages consistently gain more weight that people who don’t.

One of the most concerning aspects of soft drinks, is how easily they can become a very strong habit. In studies with rats, sugar causes dopamine release in the brain which brings a feeling of pleasure. In humans, who also like the effects of dopamine, it is easy to feel drawn to soft drinks when feeling a bit tired, down or stressed. It can become a source of comfort and very difficult to stop or cut down.  Keeping your intake of soft drink irregular or limited occasions can help prevent these habits quickly take hold.

The combination of sugar with the acidic nature of soft drinks can spell disaster for your teeth. The acids create a highly acidic environment in your mouth which is the perfect environment for tooth decay. The sugar residue left on your teeth also make an ideal breeding ground for the bad bacteria in your mouth to grow.

A little bit of bloating is a healthy side effect of the digestive process due to fermentation of fibre in the large intestine. However, if you are finding bloating is causing pain or discomfort, it may be time to consider the amount of soft drink or any other carbonated drinks you consume. Most of the time, when air swallowed, it will work it’s way back up again, but if you already have irritable bowel syndrome or reflux, you may find that drinking fizzy drinks can make bloating feel worse (even if only until you can have a few good burps).

The reason why so much money is spent marketing soft drinks is because they are incredibly cheap to make. The main ingredient is water and the next main ingredient is sugar. The packaging would be more expensive than what is inside. And because of this very short ingredient list, these drinks also contain no essential nutrients at all. No vitamins, minerals or fibre. The only thing they contain is energy or calories.

Now there is nothing wrong with calories – they are the main fuel source for all our muscles and brain. It is essential for life and no harm or weight gain will come from eating enough energy to meet your body’s needs. However, if a big chunk of our energy comes from foods and drinks that don’t contain any essential vitamins and minerals, then we have a problem. To be able to meet our body’s energy AND nutrient needs, most of our food and drinks need to be what we call ‘nutrient-dense’. This means they contain things like amino acids, fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants etc.  And to achieve the right mix of nutrients, we need variety. Variety in the types of foods and colours as well as plenty of different plant foods.  Soft drinks are what we call non-essential foods or ‘discretionary’. You can take them or leave them.

So, enjoy a soft drink now and again as part of a wide and varied diet full of plant foods, fibre rich grains and lean proteins!  Then they can continue to be the refreshing drink that they were designed to be.

November 17, 2023