Whether a Pepsi fan or Diet Coke devotee, some of us really love our soft drinks (and may be a wee bit addicted to them too). Whether in a can or out of the fountain, soft drinks are like a mini celebration in your mouth. An exclamation point in a crazy day. Does the mid-day slump have you salivating for a sugary soft drink every day like one of Pavlov’s dogs?
In moderation, sugary carbonated drinks are okay, but for some moderation is tough in a “go big or go home” culture.
“Everything with nutrition comes down to moderation and not over doing it,” said Rachel Harrison, a registered dietitian and certified nutrition support clinician at Banner - University Medical Center Phoenix. “It’s okay to indulge in those sweet tooth cravings every once in a while. The problem is that not everyone does in moderation.”
Soft drink consumption has dipped over the last 20 years, but the average American still consumes nearly 39 gallons a year. So, it’s probably no surprise soda pop is also the leading source of sugar in American diets. While drinking them in moderation and along with a healthy diet and lifestyle is okay, drinking on a habitual basis is associated with weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, non-alcoholic liver disease, tooth decay and cavities, gout and arthritis.
But you might be saying to yourself, “I drink diet soda—so it’s better for me, right?”
Diet soda is a great imitator of traditional soda because it offers zero calories and less or no sugar, but there is growing evidence that they still aren’t the best for you. There can be an increased risk of changes to the gut microbiome, which can affect one's appetite, insulin sensitivity, glucose tolerance, and inflammation. Some people can experience gas, bloating, and osmotic diarrhea. And although artificially sweetened, it might cause a person to crave more sweets, such as more soda and sweet snacks, which can sabotage your diet.
On the flip side, kicking the habit can do your body good.
“There is potential for a significant decrease in overconsumption of calories and carbohydrates, which can lead to weight loss and improved blood sugar control,” Harrison said. “By decreasing your soda and/or energy drink intake, you might be able to get the full 7-8 hours of sleep that is recommended as well.”
Break the Soda Habit for Good
With all this information laid out as a giant caution sign, we have some difficult news … it’s time to break up with your soda. Your love for that sugar-sweetened beverage runs deep (every last drop), but it’s just not good enough for you. It’s not you—it’s them.
Here are 5 tips to kick the habit to the curb without falling off the soda-free wagon.
Wean Off – Don’t Go Cold Turkey (Unless That Has Worked for You in The Past)
There can be some gnarly side effects, such as a pounding headache, for some who go cold turkey.
“There is thought that excessive intake of sugary beverages can release the 'happy' hormone, dopamine,” Harrison said. “So, if someone who normally consumes an excessive amount of soda/energy drinks quits cold turkey, they can feel lethargic and have food cravings, headaches and depression.”
Give your body time to adjust, especially if you were hitting those sodas hard. Try cutting back to one a day for a couple weeks, then one every few days for a couple weeks, until you are soda-free.
“For most adults, the safe dose appears to be below 400mg of caffeine per day,” Harrison said. Soda is generally low in caffeine (less then 60mg) but can add up if consumed in excessive quantities. Energy drinks can be dangerous if consumed in excess because they tend to contain much higher amounts of caffeine. One energy drink alone can be anywhere from 250-500mg (above the recommended upper limit) and can lead to serious complications.
As you wean off soda, consider throwing in some caffeine-free ones so you can gradually decrease your caffeine. Or consider a cup of coffee or green tea. Just make sure you watch the sugar and cream.
Do the Math
“It can be a very thoughtless act when consuming drink after drink after drink and not thinking about the calories being consumed,” Harrison said.
A 12-ounce can of Coke will cost you 140 calories, and a can of Red Bull will cost you 168 calories. If you are doing more than one, the calories add up. More calories going in than being burned through exercise will start showing on the scale and your waistline.
“In the beginning of dietary changes, keeping track of what you are putting in your body is an excellent way for your brain to connect exactly how many calories, carbohydrates and caffeine you are putting in your body,” Harrison suggested.
Find a Replacement
“If water seems boring to certain individuals, try adding cut up fruit or cucumber to add some flavor,” Harrison said. “There are also other drink options with no added sugar. Even low-fat and fat free milk or 100% fruit and vegetable juice are great options.”
Do you notice that every day around a certain time you begin craving a bubbly, sweet treat? Or is it boredom that has you reaching for a can? Recognize and combat these triggers and habits and swap out with a healthier alternative. Mid-day slump? Opt for a Starbucks iced tea. Stressed? Get up and go for a walk.
To all you soda fiends out there, you can do this. And if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Kicking any habit can be tough, but with patience and a whole lotta practice, your new healthy habits will slowly become a piece of cake – er, or fruit.