Soda. A market with a net worth projected to be worth $388.4 billion by 2025 in the United States. The US has some of the highest consumption rates in the world. A recent survey revealed that over 50% of respondents consumed a soft drink at least multiple times a week, if not every day.
Do we as Americans really know what soda is even made of and how it affects our bodies? Soft drinks typically contain carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, caffeine, phosphoric acid, citric acid, natural flavors, carbon dioxide, organic diol, and brominated vegetable oil (yes you are literally drinking oil). Let’s just focus on two of these ingredients today.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
High Fructose Corn Syrup is a common sweetener in sodas and the use has increased over the years. High fructose corn syrup is chemically similar to table sugar, but our bodies may not break it down the same way. There is a 26% increased risk of developing diabetes when consuming more high fructose corn syrup. The way fructose is metabolized by creating excess triglycerides, unfortunately, can lead to cirrhosis and insulin resistance, which in turn may lead to diabetes and heart disease.
Table sugar (sucrose) and high fructose corn syrup are composed of two molecules — glucose and fructose — in roughly equal amounts. Glucose can be metabolized by every cell in your body, whereas fructose can only be metabolized by one organ — your liver. Sugary drinks are the easiest and most common way to consume excessive amounts of fructose. When you consume too much, your liver becomes overloaded and turns fructose into fat. Some of the fat gets shipped out as blood triglycerides, while part of it remains in your liver. Over time, this can contribute to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
High sugar intake is also associated with weight gain in the dangerous fat around your belly and organs. In one 10-week study, 32 healthy people consumed beverages sweetened with either fructose or glucose. Those who consumed glucose had an increase in skin fat — which is not linked to metabolic disease — while those who consumed fructose saw their belly fat significantly increase.
Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO)
Brominated vegetable oil. Did you google this one? This is a food additive used to keep citrus flavoring from separating out in sodas and other beverages. Did you know that this is already banned in Europe? Health concerns about BVO stem from one of its ingredients, bromine. Bromine can irritate the skin and mucous membranes (the moist lining of the nose, mouth, lungs, and stomach). Long-term exposure can cause neurologic symptoms such as headache, memory loss, and impaired balance or coordination. In the past, these symptoms were seen with chronic use of bromide salts as sleep medications. Fortunately, these drugs are no longer widely available in the U.S. However, there have been reports of people experiencing memory loss and skin and nerve problems after drinking excessive amounts (more than 2 liters a day) of soda containing BVO. While fewer people are likely to drink such large quantities, concern exists because bromine appears to build up in the body.
Soda drinkers have a drastically increased risk of Gout, which is a medical condition characterized by inflammation and pain in your joints. Gout typically occurs when high levels of uric acid in the blood crystallize. Fructose is the main carbohydrate known to increase uric acid levels. Long term studies tie sugary soda to a 75% increased risk of gout in women and almost 50% increased risk in men.
Increased risk of dementia. Dementia is a collective term for decline in brain function in older adults. The most common form is Alzheimer’s disease. Research shows that any incremental increase in blood sugar is strongly associated with an increased risk of dementia. In other words, the higher your blood sugar, the higher your risk of dementia. Because sugar-sweetened beverages lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar, it makes sense that they could increase your risk of dementia. Rodent studies note that large doses of sugary drinks can impair memory and decision-making capabilities.
A higher risk of cancer. Cancer tends to go together with other chronic diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. For this reason, it is unsurprising to see that sugary drinks are frequently associated with an increased risk of cancer. One study in over 60,000 adults discovered that those who drank 2 or more sugary sodas per week were 87% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those who did not drink soda. Another study on pancreatic cancer found a strong link in women — but not men. Postmenopausal women who drink a lot of sugary soda may also be at greater risk for endometrial cancer, or cancer of the inner lining of the uterus. What’s more, sugar-sweetened beverage intake is linked to cancer reoccurrence and death in patients with colorectal cancer.
Drinking high amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages — such as soda — can have various adverse impacts on your health. These range from increased risk of heart disease to metabolic disorders like type 2 diabetes. Regular consumption of sugary soda also appears to be a consistent risk factor for weight gain and obesity. If you want to lose weight, avoid chronic disease, and live longer, consider limiting your intake of sugary drinks and having them be a treat instead of a staple.