Soft drinks are in the crosshairs of all public policies on nutritional health around the world. The reason for this is that they promote the consumption of sugar beyond the recommended limits, and this relates to the obesity epidemic and other chronic diseases.
Strict nutrition experts may even turn a blind eye to the occasional violation of healthy eating guidelines. The problem is when the exception becomes the rule and this element becomes part of the diet every day of the week.
- 15% of adults over the age of 18 drink soft drinks 5 or more days a week in Brazil.
- 32% of children have already tasted the drink before the age of 2, a range for which sugar should not be offered.
Tasty but ordinary
Classified as an ultra-processed food, which is an industrial formulation composed of substances such as sugar, colors, flavors, flavor enhancers and other additives, soft drinks offer no nutritional benefits.
Despite the high percentage of water, the sugar and additives that make it up do not allow it to be considered a source of hydration.
- One 350ml can of soda equals 10 teaspoons of sugar, the total recommended amount per day for adults.
- 1 in 10 deaths from all preventable diseases are related to processed foods.
How your body reacts
Given its formulation, presentation and accessibility, the drink tends to be consumed in excess, which can lead to undesirable changes and negative effects. The main ones are:
- premature death
- coronary artery disease
- Some types of cancer
- liver fat
- Bone loss
Those who consume more than one can or glass of soda per day increase their risk of premature death from all types of diseases by 11%.
Two or more portions per day are enough to increase the odds (31%) of having cardiovascular disease (heart attack or stroke), compared with no consumption or less than one portion per month.
Put more weight on the scale
Although soft drink consumption has been declining since 2007 in Brazil, obesity rates have not followed this decline.
- This type of drink increases total daily calories because it does not fill you up and is not compensated by other sources of calories in subsequent meals.
- Weight gain is gradual. The average is about 450 g per year.
- People who consume one or more servings a day have a strong genetic risk of increased BMI (body mass index) and obesity.
- Consumption immediately after delivery is related to greater weight retention during this time and increased fat in babies.
You sabotage cardiovascular health
Together with obesity, this is one of the main and most consistent effects confirmed by science. For each daily portion, the risk of having coronary heart disease increases by 15%.
- The concentration of fat in the blood vessels of the heart is related to poor nutrition, sedentary lifestyle and obesity.
- Dyslipidemia soon appears, those changes in the levels of fats in the blood (cholesterol and triglycerides), blood sugar, as well as an increase in blood pressure.
- This condition leads to metabolic syndrome, a real gateway to cardiometabolic diseases, such as stroke and heart attack.
- Drinking 1 serving per day has been linked to revascularization (saphenous bypass) among women.
Among the means to escape the disease is to stay away from soft drinks, which absorb quickly and are quick to raise blood glucose levels (high index and glycemic load).
Drinking one or two servings a day could increase the risk of type 2 diabetes by 83%, compared to people who don’t drink that item.
The main explanation for this is weight gain, but the drink also promotes chronic inflammation, increased triglycerides, a drop in “good” cholesterol (HDL), and increased insulin resistance, all of which that lead to this disease.
You let your guard down against cancer
Excess body fat and cardiometabolic changes are related to obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes. Added together, they reduce protection against several types of cancer.
Scientists still note the negative impact of soft drinks in this regard. The most relevant studies show a relationship with breast cancer, especially in the period preceding menopause.
Other research indicates a link to prostate, colon and pancreatic cancer, but the data is not yet unanimous.
you poison the liver
A daily dose makes the organ complain with the appearance of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NASH), the famous fatty liver. Ingredients such as fructose, sucrose and corn syrup can have this effect and even cause alanine transaminase concentration, a sign of healthy organ function. For some scientists, the extra calories would have the most value in this equation.
you ruin your teeth
Good and bad bacteria make up the oral ecosystem. Some of them metabolize sugars, producing acids. Together with certain foods, these microorganisms form “bacterial plaque” or biofilm.
- Caries results from the lack of control of this process, which leads to the destruction of the surface structure of the tooth (enamel or dentin).
- With different causes, the disease is influenced by diet, especially sugar consumption, and is mediated by biofilms.
- Soft drinks contain acids (carbonic, phosphoric and citric) and a lot of sugar. In the most predisposed people, this combination, added to the lack of hygiene, contributes to the appearance of the lesion (caries).
Shake the bones
Cola drinks appear to be associated with bone thinning. What we know so far is that this process is not caused by gasification. Caffeine and phosphoric acid (or phosphate) can contribute to this loss.
Like calcium, phosphate is a component of bones. And the consumption of soft drinks could replace milk, one of the sources of calcium, compromising the recommended daily dose of the nutrient. The data comes from the BHOF (Bone Health and Osteoporosis Foundation).
And the diet version?
They typically have an artificial sweetener, which shouldn’t be used indiscriminately. The guide is from WHO. This sugar substitute is suitable for those who have some kind of food restriction or disease, and not for those who want to stay healthy.
- While it may bring short-term benefits under specific conditions, its long-term effects have not yet been fully understood.
- High consumption of these components has been linked to weight gain and diabetes because they appear to encourage fat storage in the body and even confuse insulin receptors.
To stay hydrated, help prevent disease, without the risk of side effects, choose water.
Ideas to replace consumption
- Drink more water. For a change, drink carbonated water.
- Use your creativity and bet on fruit or herbs to flavor your water.
- Make some ice cubes with your favorite fruit. Adds more flavor to water.
- Invest in classic coffees and teas to ensure the caffeine boost.
- Try chamomile and lemon tea to relax and hibiscus, which helps with blood pressure control.
Sources: Ana Paula Bortoletto Martins, nutritionist, holds a doctorate in nutrition and public health, is a researcher at Nupens-USP (Nucleus of Epidemiological Research in Nutrition and Health of the University of São Paulo); Erick Barreto Pordeusgeneral practitioner at HC-UFPE (Hospital das Clínicas of the Federal University of Pernambuco), which is part of the Ebserh network (Brazilian Company of Hospital Services), Master’s student at the Department of Tropical Medicine and professor of semiology and urgency and emergencies at the institution itself; Madeleine Vallinotti, clinical nutritionist, former director of SindiNutri-SP (Union of Nutritionists of the State of São Paulo); And Maria Sueli de Souzadental surgeon, is part of the clinical staff of the Clínica Odontológica Spera Odonto, in São Paulo. Technical review: Madalena Vallinoti.
- Ministry of Health (Food guide for the Brazilian population
- Nupens/USP – President Josué de Castro. Dialogue on ultra-processed products: solutions for healthy and sustainable food systems. 2021.
- World Health Organization. Rios-Leyvraz M, Montez J. Health effects of nonsugar sweetener use: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Geneva; 2022.
- Nilson EAF, Ferrari G, Louzada MLC, Levy RB, Monteiro CA, Rezende LFM. Premature deaths attributable to consumption of ultra-processed foods in Brazil. Am J Previous Med. 2023 Jan;64(1):129-136. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2022.08.013. Epub 2022 November 7th. PMID: 36528353.
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- Malik VS, Popkin BM, Bray GA, Després JP, Hu FB. Sugary drinks, obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus and risk of cardiovascular disease. Circulation. 2010 Mar 23;121(11):1356-64 . doi: 10.1161/CIRCULAZIONEAHA.109.876185. PMID: 20308626; PMC ID: PMC2862465.
- Schulze MB, Manson JE, Ludwig DS, et al. Sugar-sweetened beverages, weight gain, and the incidence of type 2 diabetes in young and middle-aged women. JAMA. 2004;292(8):927-934. doi:10.1001/jama.292.8.927
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