Cross off the Pop
Part 1 of 5

You’re at the local café with a group of friends. The waitress comes to the table to take your drink orders. 

“Coke, please.”

“Same here….Actually, make that a diet. I need to start watching my weight.”

“Do you have Red Bull? I’ve got to stay up late studying tonight.”

“I’ll have the raspberry lemonade; I’m giving up soda.”

“Iced tea…sweet, please.”


“I’ll just have water, please.”

Now it’s your turn, and the waitress looks at you. What do you order?

Ordering a drink is usually not a big deal. You order quickly, maybe out of habit or without too much thought. Then you decide what to eat. That’s the important part, right? But wait a minute. Let’s back up. Maybe what you have to drink is a bit more important than you think. 

Consistently choosing certain types of drinks can damage your health, while choosing the right ones supports good health. Even if you don’t make the healthiest food choices on a particular day, choosing your beverages more thoughtfully will keep your meals from being complete nutritional failures. Don’t overlook your beverage selections if you care about your health.

Of course, the absolute worst selection you can make at this point in your life is an alcoholic beverage, for many reasons. You can read more about alcohol consumption in our Underage Drinking article. But even on the non-alcoholic side of the menu, you’re faced with many other poor options. Does your personal drink menu include either of these two?

Soda, Sugar in a Can

I can hear your screams of protest already. Some of you simply don’t want to give up your carbonated soft drinks. Although overall soda pop consumption has declined in the past several years, many of you still enjoy your soft drinks on a regular basis. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, 27% of teens drank one or more soda per day in 2013. 

Regardless of how much you enjoy it, the sugar found in regular soda makes it a pretty poor choice. Not only does one 12-ounce can contain more than your daily allotment, but soda also contains one of the most dangerous forms of sugar—high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Research shows that regular consumption of this harmful sugar increases your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, memory problems, and obesity.

If you want to know more about the many dangers of sugar, head over to the Improving You section and read The Sweet Life series of articles. A surplus of sugar causes a host of health problems, and regular soda can easily tilt your sugar balance into overload for the day. 

Drink up to gain weight—the wrong way!

Even if the sugar in soda caused no other problems, these beverages fill your diet with calories devoid of nutritional value. Those empty calories do nothing more than lead to weight gain. Plus, the more sugary pop you drink, the more calories you are likely to consume later in the day, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

Dr. Joseph Mercola, author and founder of, explains on his website what happens to your body when you consume your favorite fizzy beverage….

  • In less than an hour, soda spikes your blood sugar, causing your liver to turn sugar into fat.
  • Your blood pressure may rise.
  • Your liver unloads sugar into your bloodstream.
  • After an hour, here comes the sugar crash—a yearning for even more sugar! Will you give in to the cravings? Probably so.

Even worse, a recent study published in the scientific journal Nutrition showed that many popular sodas contain more dangerous fructose than their labels indicate. So even just one can of soda may turn out to be more sugar than you bargained for.

No wonder soda contributes to unhealthy weight gain!

Sixteen-year-old Davis knows from experience. During his recuperation from a broken leg, he drank lots of soda while lounging on the couch. After 10 weeks, he’d gained 12 pounds.

Seventeen-year-old Foster, on the other hand, gave up sodas completely one summer and lost 20 pounds, “Even when I’m not eating the best, I feel like I’m doing a lot for my health just by drinking water instead of soda,” he says. 

Your soda may be well-preserved, but your body won’t be.

In addition to sugar crashes, too many soft drinks can also damage your bones. Perhaps people who drink lots of soda experience bone loss simply because they’re drinking colas instead of milk or other calcium-fortified beverages. Some researchers, however, blame a preservative found in most colas—phosphoric acid.

Although derived from phosphorus, a mineral your body actually needs for bone health, a regular consumption of this chemical causes an imbalance between phosphorus and calcium. When you consume more phosphorus than calcium, according to Harvard Health Publications, your bones pay the price.

So if you insist on drinking cola, try cutting down your servings and consuming more foods and drinks high in calcium…for your bones’ sake.

If you prefer lemon-lime and other flavored sodas, don’t relax yet. You’ll need to watch out for other preservatives in these varieties. Sodium benzoate, for example, has been associated with Parkinson’s disease and liver damage.

Still want your usual order?

Don’t let clever ads justify your soda choice.

As people learn more reasons for avoiding soda, marketers have stepped up their efforts. According to advertising, certain varieties of regular soda have suddenly become a healthy option. Don’t fall for the ploys. Adding a bit of natural lemon flavor or a form of sweetener that sounds natural does not prevent the damage the rest of that soda will do. Beverage companies want their products to appear acceptable again. They aren’t. Read the labels. And for goodness’ sake, don’t be tempted by cool packaging or misleading product names.

Although you don’t have to give up carbonated drinks altogether, you should give up regular sodas, or at least consume them only occasionally and in small quantities. If you’re going to indulge, don’t order a large, thinking you’re doing well because you didn’t get the super-size! Stick with a small, which causes more than enough damage for one day.

Diet Soda, The Great Irony

“I’m trying to lose weight,” says Marla, “I used to drink three or four sodas a day. So I switched to diet soda. I was hoping that would do the trick. But I’ve actually gained a little.”

Marla hasn’t gotten the message. Diet versions of your favorite carbonated drinks aren’t good for your diet at all. As a matter of fact, they actually promote weight gain. A diet soda may have zero calories, but it’s full of an artificial substance that doesn’t like your body.

Research indicates that artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose increase your appetite, particularly for unhealthy carbohydrates. What’s more, evidence shows that consumption of these substances found in diet drinks puts you at risk for the same diseases (such as diabetes and heart disease) as drinking the regular versions.

Here’s the most disturbing news: Scientists still question the basic safety of aspartame. Will it affect you soon after drinking it? Possibly. Will it affect your health in the long run? There’s a good chance.

Dr. Mercola lists 68 scientific studies and articles linking this dangerous sweetener to a variety of health problems including…

  • obesity
  • brain damage
  • behavioral issues
  • headaches
  • seizures
  • childhood asthma
  • cancer

And that’s the short list!

Are you ready to change your pop order? You might not like ordering water with lemon instead of a nice, tall lemon-lime soda, but will you like developing diabetes or some other disease? Maybe you won’t like ordering juice instead of cola. On the other hand, you probably won’t enjoy obesity, either.

Natural Soda, Your Best Alternative

Take heart. Your soda-drinking days don’t have to end. Healthy alternatives do exist if you feel you simply must have a little carbonation occasionally. 

You’ve probably seen natural sodas in major grocery stores, as well as in health food markets. Give them a chance, if you haven’t already. Check labels for all-natural flavors and for natural sweeteners, such as cane sugar and honey. Make sure the soda you choose is free of HFCS, artificial colorings such as caramel coloring, and preservatives. 

Naturally sweetened soda definitely beats regular soda. Cane sugar is far less damaging that HFCS, for example. However, a full serving still contains a significant amount of sugar. So don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can drink as many of these as you’d like. You still need to avoid lots of sugar—even the natural ones. If you discover a natural brand that you like, perhaps limit yourself to one per week.

If once a week doesn’t satisfy your cravings for a fizzy drink, or if you don’t want the extra calories, you have other options. Several natural sodas are sweetened with non-sugar, all-natural sweeteners, such as Stevia. The result: great-tasting alternatives with zero calories and no dangerous artificial sweeteners. (Read The Sweet Life: Kick the Sugar Habit for a list of safe non-sugar sweeteners.) 

Most natural sodas do cost a bit more, unfortunately, and buying these drinks regularly will add up. So, unless money isn’t an issue for you, you’ll probably need to limit your purchases. But if you’re going to drink soda even just once a week, a healthy alternative is well worth the extra cost. 

Evaluate your personal drink menu. Do you need to cross off regular and diet sodas?

If you’re not sure you can do it, just commit to it for one month. Replace your usual soda orders with healthier alternatives. You may not miss them as much as you think. If you do take the challenge, let us know what happens. Did you lose any excess weight? Did you notice any positive changes in your health?

Next on the menu: two beverage types, even more popular than soda and perhaps even worse for your health. Find out more in part 2.

Written by Beth W. Prassel-Sieg


Part 2:
Eliminate the Worst Offenders 

Part 3:
Watch Out for Imposters 

Part 4:
Three More Imposters Exposed

Part 5:
I’ll Just Have Water 

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Good habits formed at youth make all of the difference in life. Aristotle