High-calorie, low-benefit

With tooth enamel, weight and more at stake,drink soda in moderation, health experts urge

With tooth enamel, weight and more at stake,drink soda in moderation, health experts urge

June 04, 2007|by JULIE E. GREENE

When it comes to sports, coaches often say it's about practice, practice, practice.

When it comes to sugary foods, health experts say it's often about moderation, moderation, moderation.

Sodas are no different.

"What's usually considered bad about soda is sugar and calories, which lead to weight gain," said Mary Hartshorn dietitian and diabetes educator for Gateway Health Services at City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Many people consume a lot of calories through soda and they don't even realize that's the source, said Hartshorn and Dr. Gail Brown, who practices internal medicine and pediatrics at Smithsburg Family Medical Center.

"When people are trying to lose weight and they say 'I don't eat that much,' well, what do you drink?" Brown said.


The calories in soda can add up, especially with bigger cup sizes at convenience stores and fast-food restaurants, Hartshorn said.

One 12-ounce serving of soda contains 10 to 12 teaspoons of sugar, according to Doreen La Duca, nutrition educator with the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. If you drink four 12-ounce sodas in a day, you chug about a cup of sugar.

On average, the U.S. consumer who drank regular soda in 2005 consumed 35.5 gallons that year, whereas the consumer who drank diet soda consumed 16 gallons, according to data at the Web site for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.

Soda contains a lot of "empty" calories, meaning most of the calories are coming from simple sugars, Brown said. While the brain and heart need sugar, people should look at the balance of what they're eating and drinking. A proper diet balances carbohydrates, such as sugars, with fats and proteins.

If the balance is tipped in favor of sugars, then the body can convert the extra sugar to fat, adding weight, Brown said. Proper exercise can slow that process.

Diet sodas

Many people have switched to diet sodas, which contain artificial sweeteners, to get away from sugars such as high-fructose corn syrup.

But diet soda doesn't help with weight loss if people just use it as an excuse to eat more, Brown said.

While the jury might still be out on whether diet soda is harmful, Hartshorn doesn't consider artificial sweeteners such as Splenda and Equal, which are used in diet sodas, to be harmful.

"I think they're safe for our use generally," she said.

Studies have suggested a link between cancer and the artificial sweetener aspartame, which can be found in some sodas. The artificial sweetener Equal contains aspartame.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a statement about aspartame as recently as April 2007, this time in reaction to a European study involving rats that concluded aspartame is a carcinogen.

The data does not provide evidence to change the FDA's conclusion that the use of aspartame is safe, according to the FDA statement at The statement adds that the FDA could not do a complete review of the European Ramazzini Foundation study because the foundation, in Italy, did not provide the full study data.

Aspartame was approved for use in sodas in the U.S. in 1983 and is one of the most widely used artificial sweeteners, according to the FDA.

Other concerns

Other concerns Brown has about drinking too much soda include the amount of salt people consume through soda.

The body needs sodium but not too much, Brown said.

Sodium helps the body retain fluid, which can make blood pressure rise.

Also, Brown knew of at least two studies that noted the possibility of a connection between carbonated beverages such as soda and a higher risk of bone fractures, Brown said.

According to a 2000 news release from Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard researcher Grace Wyshak had examined the relationship between drinking soda, physical activity and bone fractures at least three times and each study found strong relationships between drinking carbonated beverages - primarily brown colas - and bone fractures in physically active populations.

Brown said the physiological basis was unclear. The connection might have been more due to people not drinking beverages with calcium such as milk and orange juice enhanced with calcium.

Wyshak said that is probably a contributing factor, but she believes the cause behind the connection is the phosphoric acid in brown colas, which has been shown to affect calcium metabolism and bone mass.

Soda's acidity also can affect teeth detrimentally.

The acidity can erode the enamel of teeth and the softer, thinner layer of cementum that covers root surfaces that can be exposed when gums recede, said Dr. Richard Price, a retired dentist and spokesman for the American Dental Association.

Saliva can neutralize soda's acidity if given time, Price said. That's why one big burst of soda, such as a soda with lunch, is better than sipping soda throughout the day and bathing teeth in the acid, he said.

Drinking milk and eating cheese can help rebuild the mineral content for teeth's enamel and roots, he said.

Everything in moderation

"I think we can use soda just like anything else we eat or drink," Hartshorn said. "Everybody's heard this before - moderation. I think we get carried away."

With moderation, people can still drink soda without bad health consequences, she said.

Whether soda is bad or good, "I think it's a reality of part of how we've become used to eating," Hartshorn said.

Many times people like drinking something with flavor out of habit, Hartshorn said.

Often when people start to drink a soda, they appreciate those first few sips. Then they continue sipping it occasionally because it's convenient, it's what's sitting next to them at their desk, Hartshorn said.

"Would you really mind if (you were) drinking water rather than soda?" she asks.

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