Are we drinking too much soda?

October 10, 2002|by LYNN F. LITTLE

When thirst comes on, the beverage of choice for many Americans is a soft drink. Americans have enjoyed soft drinks for more than 100 years. Today, however, the concern is that Americans are drinking more soda than is healthy for them.

Since the mid-1980s, a sharp rise in sugar consumption has occurred. This just happens to coincide with a 47 percent increase in consumption of carbonated soft drinks. It is estimated that each person consumes 14.5 ounces of regular soft drinks per day.

Each 12-ounce can of soda contains between 10 and 12 teaspoons of sugar. The following list reflects the amount of sugar (in cups) and calories, as they compound with each can of soft drink consumed.

One soda (about 1/4 cup sugar and 140 calories)

Two sodas (about 1/2 cup sugar and 280 calories)

Three sodas (about 3/4 cup sugar and 420 calories)

Four sodas (about 1 cup sugar and 560 calories)


Five sodas (about 1 1/4 cups sugar and 700 calories)

Six sodas (about 1 1/2 cups sugar and 840 calories)

So why is this of concern? First, soda contains calories but no nutrients and thus replaces other foods that provide more nutritional value. For optimum health, it is best to choose beverages (at least most of the time) that will provide vitamins and minerals necessary for good health. Water is a great choice, too.

Those drinking large amounts of soda could be at risk for osteoporosis, especially if soda is replacing milk or other calcium-rich foods. This is a special issue for teens, whose bones are growing at peak levels and who need three to four servings of milk or milk products each day.

Large amounts of sugar in the form of soda also can promote tooth decay. Sugar is not the only factor in tooth decay, but the acid in soda can dissolve tooth enamel, and this can lead to cavities.

Sixty-one percent of the population is overweight or obese and soda can be a contributing factor.

Children and teens are the heaviest consumers of soft drinks. The industry markets to children in schools, on television and the radio. In addition, vending machines are available at many locations, including schools. The soft drink industry offers money to schools through revenues that come from vending machines.

Some schools raise as much as $100,000 per year this way. The money helps schools purchase computers and other much-needed items, but is this practice really helping our children? A legislative move currently is underway to restrict the sale of vending machine items during school hours.

While drinking soda is not an evil in and of itself, it does not promote any health benefits and excessive soft drink consumption could have negative health effects. Moderation is the key to beverage choices. An occasional soft drink will do us no harm, but several a day provide extra sugar and calories that most of us do not need.

It is important that adults and children understand the importance of choosing healthful beverages. If adults want their children to drink beverages, such as milk, they should model that behavior for their children.

The more often a child is exposed to a food, the more likely he or she is to consume that food. And, if you do not want your children to drink soda, keep it out of the home. Keeping it at home, without allowing children to consume it, makes it all that much more appealing.

Think about providing other beverages that contain calcium, such as:

  • Fruit smoothies made with low-fat yogurt.

  • Chocolate or strawberry flavored milk (these are good alternatives if you or your children don't like plain milk).

  • Calcium-fortified orange juice.

Strawberry Banana Smoothie

  • 8 oz. of low-fat fruit yogurt

  • 1 banana

  • 1 cup of strawberries (fresh or frozen)

  • 2 cups of calcium-fortified orange juice

Mix all ingredients together in a blender and serve. Makes 4 to 6 cups. If you have leftover smoothie, use it to make homemade popsicles.

Lynn F. Little is the family and consumer science educator with the Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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