The hard truth about soft drinks

We all want to look and feel better. Every time we face the mirror, we probably wonder how we can improve our appearance. We try diets, starving ourselves and promising that we'll exercise. But long hours at the office and the stress of business travel can wear us down.

Often, that's when we turn to an old standby: a can of Coke, Pepsi or other favorite soft drink for a burst of energy. We've seen the ads all our lives, extolling the virtues of a refreshing can of soda. There's just one problem: that soda is not your friend. 

Behind the attractive graphics on a can of pop are the little details many of us overlook: the ingredients and nutrition facts. They're definitely worth closer examination. If you've wondered how those pounds creep up on the scale, or why you feel so worn out after having downed a few cans of our favorite soft drink, these can tell a story. A can of soda is loaded with sugar. That might give you a rush of energy, but you'll pay the price in an equally fast drop in blood sugar not long afterward. If you're not burning off all that sugar, it will metabolize into fat. And over time, it all adds up. 

A good example is Coca-Cola.  Instead of sugar, a can of classic Coke contains 39 grams of sugars, specifically in the form of high-fructose corn syrup (HCFS). Though the jury's out on whether HFCS is more likely to cause obesity and other adverse health concerns, research has suggested it's worse for you than regular sugar. According to an article by Dr. Mark Hyman, fructose goes right to the liver and triggers lipogenesis (the production of fats like triglycerides and cholesterol) this is why it is the major cause of liver damage in this country and causes a condition called “fatty liver” which affects 70 million people.


Taking a big gulp of soda triggers big spikes in insulin–our body’s major fat storage hormone. When your liver can't process such a flood of glucose from a can of soda, this causes your liver to turn the excess glucose into fat. While this can keep you alert and energized for a short time, your brain will adjust and will need more of sugar to stay awake. And it's why you can be so easily addicted to soda, and why you can experience increases in appetite, weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, dementia, tooth decay and more.

Avoiding added sugar in any form is essential to good health. The American Heart Association  recommends that you consume no more than the following maximum amounts of sugar per day: 

Men: 150 calories per day (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons).
Women: 100 calories per day (25 grams or 6 teaspoons).

For perspective, one 12 oz. can of Coke contains 140 calories from sugar. That's more than a Snickers candy bar. If you're not exercising, it's easy to see how drinking soda can quickly increase weight and fat.

Other ingredients. 
Depending on the source used, caramel coloring, a common ingredient in many soft drinks such as Pepsi can contain high levels of a chemical called 4-MEI, or 4-methylimidazole. A 2007 federal study found that excessive levels of 4-MEI in laboratory mice could be potentially carcinogenic. 

Sodium Benzoate, a preservative used to inhibit bacteria in many soft drinks, can cause rashes, asthma and even eczema in some individuals. In addition, many soda cans are lined with a chemical known as BPA or bisphenyl-A, which can cause cancer and reproductive problems. Not good.

So what can you do?
Sweetened drinks — soda, sports drinks and energy drinks — make up 36% of the sugar Americans consume and have the greatest health impacts. Eliminating liquid sugar in a can or bottle can dramatically improve your health. Be aware of where sugar is hiding in the food and drinks you consume. Cooking at home instead of eating out too frequently can help you control what you eat and drink. And get in the habit of carefully reading the labels on the food you buy.

There are at least 61 different names on an ingredients label that could mean added sugar.  If the ingredient's name has an “ose” at the end—as in dextrose, fructose, lactose—it’s likely to be added sugar. 

We'd like to propose a really cool alternative: water. Really. A good bottle of water contains no calories, no sugar, no chemicals, no preservatives. Simply staying hydrated is proven to keep you alert, but without all the side effects of soft drinks.

If you're feeling tired at the office, our trick is to excuse yourself for 10 minutes and go outside. Take a brisk walk. Stretch. Do jumping jacks, even push-ups or incline push-ups leaning against an outside patio chair, for example. Getting fresh air, increasing your pulse and drinking some fresh water can do everything a can of soda would do, all without potentially bad effects. Kids do it at recess. Grown-ups can do it at work or on the road. There's a lot you can learn from an eight year-old.

Give it a try.

Learn more. Take a moment to view the infographic below, and visit

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