Soda has been a big part of American pop culture since the 1800s, when it was first marketed as a brain tonic to “invigorate the system” and cure headaches.
It tasted good, too, and the popularity of soft drinks grew, until the late 1990s, when studies revealed that a third of Americans were obese and another third were overweight.
Much of the blame fell on sugar-sweetened beverages such as full-calorie Coke and Pepsi that offered only sugar, caffeine and flavoring. As Americans’ waistlines expanded and news coverage of the obesity epidemic surged, consumers got the message and started to reduce calories, including those from soda.
Caffeine and sugar aren’t the only problems some have with soft drinks. Many other ingredients in soda have come under scrutiny, such as the additives that give soda its color that some experts say may cause cancer.
About 17 percent of Americans drink sugar-sweetened soda on a daily basis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 58 percent of Americans drink soda less often, but regularly. If you’re one of them, we’ll bust some myths about this sugary beverage.
Myth: A mini-can of soda is a healthy snack
Before this idea gets too entrenched, let’s debunk it now. A recent Coca-Cola ad campaign includes professional dietitians paid by the company promoting the soft drink as “a healthy snack.”
While a can of soda here or there won’t ruin your health, no variety of soda is “healthy” because there are no nutritional benefits to drinking it.
For your health, you need good fat, carbohydrates, protein and micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Soda contains none of those nutrients, except for sugar, which is a type of carbohydrate. However, refined sugar is far less beneficial to health than other types of carbohydrates and should be restricted rather than viewed as a nutrient.
Myth: Just one soda a day is fine
Moderation is the watchword in many dietary recommendations, so you may think that the 12-ounce soda you have with lunch is no big deal.
But that can of sugary soda contains about 10 teaspoons of added sugar, very close to the World Health Organization’s recommendations for added-sugar intake.
The WHO recommends getting no more than 10 percent of calories from added sugars, but that’s an upper limit. For optimal health, added sugars should be less than 5 percent of calories. In a 2,000-calorie diet, 5 percent of calories works out to 6 teaspoons of sugar, and 10 percent is 12 teaspoons, or about a quarter of a cup.
The American Heart Association has similarly conservative recommendations. AHA recommends no more than nine teaspoons of added sugars per day for men, and six teaspoons for women.
Not only is sugar not beneficial to your health, according to AHA, but consuming too much can cause health problems. Too much sugar on a regular basis can cause rapid tooth decay and help you pack on the pounds, possibly leading to obesity, heart disease, and type II diabetes.
Myth: Sugary-beverage consumption is higher than ever
In the late 1990s, Americans’ sugary beverage consumption — including soda — hit an all-time high, coinciding with a rise in obesity and generating big headlines. But the decrease in soda consumption that followed received much less media attention.
In fact, the number of calories Americans consume from soda has decreased from about 196 per day in 1999 to 151 per day in 2009, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study was designed to look at the impact the 2008 recession had on calorie consumption, and whether the economy affects obesity. The researchers found that Americans had been decreasing the number of calories they consume since 2003, long before the recession.
And while soda isn’t healthy, some claims of danger may be overblown. For instance, you may have heard that preservatives or caramel color additives in soda cause cancer. These claims come from studies in rodents and can’t be verified in humans just yet. Usually, the rodents in those studies are given chemicals at high concentrations, and a human is unlikely to receive a proportional amount.
While it’s possible there are carcinogens in soda that should be regulated, more trials are needed to know if the chemical threatens humans. The Food and Drug Administration keeps a close eye on studies of all possible carcinogens, and issues warnings and regulations as soon as plausible connections are found.
While it might not give you cancer, a soda habit can still damage on your health, and cutting consumption to once a week or less is in your best interest.