It’s no secret that drinking soda is bad for your health—it’s a processed beverage loaded with sugar, chemicals, and flavorings.
Soft drinks are also linked with a plethora of negative health problems, including diabetes, obesity, asthma, heart disease, and cancer.
Soda and the American Consumer
Nearly every restaurant and food store in the U.S. offers soda. In fact, “Big Soda”—the soft drink industry—is worth a staggering $75 billion.
The average American will consume at least one single soda every day and drink approximately 450 cans per year. That’s crazy, right?To me it is, but I’m not the average American—I haven’t consumed soda in at least a few years. Not to toot my own horn, but it looks like more Americans are starting to think like me. According to a 2014 Gallup survey, about two-thirds of Americans are trying to avoid soda in their diets. That is a huge improvement from 2002, when only 41% tried to avoid soda.The soda industry is downright scared they are going to lose profits. As a result, one of the biggest soft drink companies in the world, Coca-Cola, is working with fitness and nutrition experts to help improve their image.In a recent article, a dietitian and Coca-Cola consultant suggested portion-controlled, 90-calorie mini-cans of cola were a “healthy” snack idea. The article was featured and discussed on over 1,000 web sites, including major media organizations.A healthy snack idea? You have got to be kidding me! As someone who studies the harmful effects of soda ingredients regularly, I would highly recommend against soda consumption—I wouldn’t even recommend drinking soda in moderation.
What New Ingredient Is Linked to Cancer?
“Fitness and nutrition experts” can say what they want. There is more evidence that suggests soda, particularly its ingredients, can cause cancer. In a recent analytical study published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE, the artificial caramel coloring used in cola and other soft drinks may contain the potential carcinogen, 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), and increase the risk of cancer.
The researchers found that drinking just one can of soda a day can put a person at risk of ingesting the potential cancer-causing chemical, 4-MEI. According to California law, Proposition 65, when a product contains at least 29 mcg (micrograms) of 4-MEI, there must be a warning on the label that there is a one in 100,000 risk of getting cancer.
The study also observed the potential carcinogen exposure and soft drink consumption for tens of thousands of American adults and children between the ages of three and 70 years old, with data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Nutrition and health patterns were analyzed between 2003 and 2010.
Young adults consumed between 550 and 1,070 mL of soda daily, while older adults between the ages of 45 and 64 consumed, on average, between 457 and 864 mL every day.
The analysis included a study from Consumer Reports researchers. They tested 110 brands of soda for 4-MEI. It was present in 11 different brands, including Pepsi products, Coke, Coke Zero, and Diet Coke.
The highest levels of 4-MEI were found in the malt-flavored soda, Goya Malta. The soft drinks contained anywhere from 3.4 to 352.5 mcg of 4-MEI in products from New York and California. Samples were tested from April to September, and December of 2013.
Consumer Reports believes the limits are far too high and should be lowered further. They also predict between 76 and 5,000 4-MEI-related cancer cases over the next 70 years in the U.S.
Other Harmful Soda Ingredients
The non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) went as far as to request that the Food and Drug Administration ban the use of artificial caramel coloring.
Some studies also link soda’s artificial sweeteners, like acesulfame-potassium, with cancer. Aspartame is a popular sweetener used in diet sodas. It is also connected with leukemia, lymphomas, and breast cancer. The phosphoric acid in soda may also speed up the aging process and lead to osteoporosis and kidney damage.
What Should You Drink Instead of Cola?
The best beverage you can drink is water. The general recommendation is eight to 10 glasses of filtered water every day, depending on your diet, age, and physical activity level. I have a 22 oz. water bottle that I refill four or five times each day!
A soda habit can be hard to kick, but you will crave fewer cans of soda after including more vegetables, fruits, and whole foods in your diet. I often make smoothies and cold-pressed juices using fresh, organic vegetables and fruits. Homemade juices and smoothies are perfect alternatives to soda—and they’re guilt-free. I recommend you consume at least one homemade juice or smoothie a day, in addition to maintaining a healthy diet and active lifestyle.
McCarthy, J., “Americans More Likely to Avoid Drinking Soda Than Before,” Gallup web site; http://www.gallup.com/poll/174137/americans-likely-avoid-drinking-soda.aspx, last accessed April 29, 2015.
“Coke a good snack? Health experts who work with Coke say so,” CBC web site, March 16, 2015; http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/coke-a-good-snack-health-experts-who-work-with-coke-say-so-1.2997311.
MacGill, M., “Daily cola ‘raises cancer risk’ due to caramel coloring,” Medical News Today web site, February 21, 2015; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/289687.php.
Smith, T., et al., “Caramel Color in Soft Drinks and Exposure to 4-Methylimidazole: A Quantitative Risk Assessment,” PLOS ONE 2015; 10(2); doi: 10.137/journal.pone.01181138.
Molland, J., “Yet Another Cancer Causing Ingredient Found in Sodas, Even ‘Natural’ Ones,” Care2 web site, January 28, 2014; http://www.care2.com/causes/yet-another-cancer-causing-ingredient-found-in-sodas-even-natural-ones.html.
“Carmel color: The health risk that may be in your soda,” ConsumerReports.org; http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/01/caramel-color-the-health-risk-that-may-be-in-your-soda/index.htm, last accessed April 29, 2015.
Krager, A., “Scary Reasons to Quit Soft Drinks,” Care2 web site, March 8, 2012; http://www.care2.com/causes/scary-reasons-to-quit-soft-drinks.html.
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