Best Reasons to Pass on These Drinks

Next time you want to quench your thirst, how about foregoing the soda and other sugary drinks and instead down a tall glass of cold water or another healthy alternative? Your body may thank you later.

There's been much attention in recent years focused on the negative effects of sugary drinks. Diet sodas also seem to pose similar health risks. While some of the research findings have been controversial, many public health experts agree that drinking soft drinks and artificially sweetened alternatives can be harmful.

Here are three of the most compelling reasons to skip these types of drinks:

1. Weight gain: Sugary soft drinks are high in calories without offering nutrients and they don't curb your hunger. So you're more inclined to take in extra calories from food along with them.

Researchers from Harvard University did a review of 30 studies looking at sugary drinks and health. They confirmed that overweight people tend to consume larger quantities of soda, and the more they drink, the higher their risk of being overweight or obese. But even diet (low or no calorie) soda can lead to weight gain for some folks. It's thought that artificially sweetened beverages may make people feel hungrier, prompting them to take in more calories.

Some researchers also suspect that the sugar substitute in diet drinks can confuse the body's ability to determine how many calories it's consumed, thus further contributing to over-eating.

2. Health Risks: Sugary drinks and many serious health issues can also go hand-in-hand.

For instance, a University of Oklahoma study published in Circulation in 2011 discovered that women who consume as little as two sweetened drinks a day are four times more likely to develop diabetes and high cholesterol than their non-soda drinking counterparts, while research included in Circulation in 2012 from the Harvard University School of Public Health found that men who regularly drank sweetened drinks were 20 percent more likely to have a heart attack than their peers. And other studies on sugary drinks and health have discovered that having just one soda or other sweetened drink a day seems to increase the risk of stroke for both sexes and can contribute to diabetes.

Researchers speculate that soda's high glycemic index causes increased blood glucose levels, inflammation, and raised cholesterol—all of which can put people at risk for these and other health issues. Diet soda also poses vascular health problems, increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke by close to 50 percent among people who consume such artificially sweetened drinks every day, according to a University of Miami study published in the General Journal of Internal Medicine in 2012.

3. Brain function: The high fructose corn syrup that's used to preserve and sweeten many soda drinks can also hamper memory and learning ability.

This finding from UCLA researchers is the first to make the link between brain function and fructose. They believe the fructose blocks insulin and keeps it from properly regulating brain cells and energy, thus interfering with learning and memory. The findings were published in The Journal of Physiology in 2012.

Keep in mind that fructose isn't only contained in soft drinks but is also in other processed foods as well, so the amount people take in can be significant. Researchers believe that taking omega-3 fatty acids can help head off the problem.

Healthy Drink Alternatives

Your best bet is to drink plenty of water. If you're looking for a tastier alternative, select plain or sparkling water that's flavored with natural fruits, vegetables, or spices. Just be sure to avoid anything artificial or that's made with sugar or sugar substitutes. Fresh, unsweetened tea can also be a very good choice. Black and green teas containing antioxidants offer valuable health properties, while herbal varieties can add some extra taste. For a little more substance, drink a steaming cup of low-sodium broth. You can also talk to your doctor about the benefits of adding more omega-3 fatty acids into your diet.




American Heart Association. “Sugar-sweetened drinks linked to increased risk of heart disease in men.” 12 March 2012.

Gardener, Hannah et al. “Diet Soft Drink Consumption is Associated with an Increased Risk of Vascular Events in the Northern Manhattan Study.” Journal of General Internal Medicine 27 (9) (2012) :1120-1126.

Harvard School of Public Health. “The Nutrition Source: Six Ideas for Low-Sugar Drinks.” N.d. Web. 19 Aug. 2012.

Koning, Lawrence de et al. “Sweetened Beverage Consumption, Incident Coronary Heart Disease and Biomarkers of Risk in Men.” Circulation 125 (2012): 1735-1741. Web. 24 Aug. 2012.

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R. Agrawal, F. Gomez-Pinilla. “Metabolic syndrome' in the brain: deficiency in omega-3 fatty acid exacerbates dysfunctions in insulin receptor signalling and cognition.” The Journal of Physiology, 2012; 590 (10): 2485 DOI: 10.1113/jphysiol.2012.230078

Shay, Christina et al. " Abstract 8438: Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption and Incident Cardiovascular Risk Factors: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA).” Circulation 2011: 124.

Swithers, Susan, Davidson, Terry. "A Role for Sweet Taste: Calorie Predictive Relations in Energy Regulation by Rats." Behavioral Neuroscience 122 ( 1)(Feb. 2008):161-73. Web. 24 Aug. 2012.