The Truth About Soft Drinks: The Effects On Cholesterol Levels & Other Health Conditions

There are absolutely no nutritional benefits from soda, you don’t have to be the smartest person on the planet to realize that, just look at the label, it’s all there. Next time you are thirsty and think about having your favorite soda, read the label before you open it, it may change your mind. Even the worst foods for your health have one or two percent of one or more nutrient, but not soft drinks. There are literally no vitamins, no protein, nothing good for your body, it is just all calories. Contribution to weight gain from extra unnecessary calories is the well-known part of problems associated with non-alcoholic sweetened soft drinks, but it could be the least of your problems. There is strong evidence that soft drinks may contribute to development of type 2 diabetes. Other potential health problems can be the development of heart disease, dental health, damaging effect on bones, metabolic dysfunctions and nutritional deficiencies that can cause various other chronic conditions, including undesired lipid profile. Carbonation also makes you have the feeling of being bloated because the soda sits in your stomach and causes excessive amounts of CO2 to form. Unfortunately, substitution with the so called “Diet” or “Light” (artificially sweetened) soft drink products may not be the best solution to these problems. The most desired substitution is obviously water.


So Why Is This Such a Big Deal?

Frankly, having some soft drink now & then is perfectly fine. Unfortunately, for many people it far exceeds “now & then”. US statistics show the amount of soft drinks consumed within the country are enough to serve each person a can of soda daily.

Did You Know?
Having a can of soda equals to having ten tablespoons of sugar and an average of extra 150 calories.

To give you a rough idea, that alone is enough to gain over 7 pounds within 6 months. Not surprisingly, those who regularly drink soft drinks generally have higher triglyceride concentration in the serum & liver.


Caffeine Content in Soft Drinks

The caffeine content of soft drinks can cause caffeine dependence, forcing soft-drink users to reach out for their favorite carbonated drink more often. A can of 12oz Coca Cola® contains 34.5mg of caffeine. “Diet” or “Light” versions of soft drinks generally contain higher concentration of caffeine (A can of 12oz Coca Cola® contains 45mg of caffeine), not surprisingly, those who regularly drink these report higher dependence to the drinks.

Did You Know?
A can of regular Coca Cola® contains nearly 1/3 the amount of caffeine found in the same amount of coffee.


Cholesterol Levels & Soft Drinks

2010 studies on animals by UNESP have shown that diets high in fructose are related to various metabolic dysfunctions, a large percentage of which are related to lipid metabolism. These dysfunctions have shown to be associated with increased levels of triglycerides, VLDL (Very Low Density Lipoprotein) & free fatty acids, other liver dysfunctions, hypertension, insulin resistance, hyperglycemia & hyperinsulinemia. As a summary, this type of diet causes increased risk of cardiovascular & circulatory disturbances. You can see the entire study here

Other studies have shown a link between low levels of HDL (AKA Good Cholesterol) & regular consumption of soft drinks (Framingham Heart Study).


Diabetes, Heart Disease & Soft Drinks

A study held by the Department of Nutrition of Harvard School of Public Health concluded that long term diet rich of large amounts of easily absorbable carbohydrates may contribute to development of type 2 diabetes. The study was performed with sugar-sweetened beverages on 91,249 women over the period of 8 years. The results, quote: “greater magnitude of weight gain and an increased risk for development of type 2 diabetes”. The same study indicates 40% increased risk of death from heart disease & heart attacks for those who consume more than 2 servings of soft drinks daily.

Did You Know?
Individuals who consume 1 or more soft drinks daily have 25% higher risk of having trouble managing blood sugar levels & 50% higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome (Framingham Heart Study).


Soft Drinks & Dental Problems

Soft drinks can cause enamel erosion, softening of teeth & dental caries. Enamel erosion is a problem associated with both sugary & sugar-free/artificially sweetened soft drinks. When you drink soft drinks, the sugar in them combines with bacteria in your mouth and forms acid, in addition to the acid that is in the soft drinks in the first place. The acid attacks tooth enamel, which lasts for about 20mins and attacks start over with every following sip. The damage to tooth enamel causes cavities.

Damaging effects of soft drinks to dental health have been proven by many studies: West China College of Stomatology, University of Maryland Baltimore Dental School, Bambodino Paediatric Dental Clinic, Public Dental Health, Orebro County Council, the list goes on …


Nutritional Deficiencies Associated with Soft Drinks

Studies show that those who drink soft drinks regularly cut down on other foods rich in nutrients necessary for proper body functioning. This is likely to be associated with additional calorie intake, which causes the brain to feel fulfilled with the food intake, thus the more soft drinks you drink, the more you are depriving yourself of other very valuable nutrients. Bone health, more precisely bone building & maintaining bone strength is one of the problems commonly associated with regular consumption of soft drinks. Apparently, the soft drink users are likely to not consume enough milk, a prime source for calcium, protein, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin D, & other micronutrients. Calcium is essential for bone building at an early stage of development & maintaining healthy bones later in life. Osteoporosis can be a possible consequence at a later stage in your life. Additionally, the drinks that contain high levels of phosphate may become a cause of high ratio of phosphate to calcium, which can have damaging effect on bones.

Soft drink consumption has been linked to deficiencies in iron, folates, vitamin A, and other essential nutrients. Full study here


“Diet”, “Light”, Artificially Sweetened Soft Drinks

FDA Approved Artificial Sweeteners:

  1. Acesulfame potassium (Nutrinova)
  2. Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal)
  3. Neotame (NutraSweet)
  4. Saccharin (Sweet’N Low)
  5. Sucralose (Kaltame, Splenda)


FDA Banned Artificial Sweeteners:

  1. Cyclamate
  2. Dulcin
  3. P-4000

Short term use of artificially sweetened soft drinks has shown to be effective for weight loss & blood sugar levels. However, long term consequences are unclear. The hypothesis is that providing the brain with impulse of sugar intake without getting the equivalent calories may throw off the brain’s ability to judge the appropriate calorie intake, thus long term this may promote excess calorie intake from other food sources. The San Antonio Heart study on 3,682 individuals over 7-8 years concluded that those regularly using artificial sweeteners had higher body mass index. Study says that artificial sweeteners enhanced human appetite, thus promoting weight gain. Full study can be seen here

This hypothesis has been also backed by studies from the University of California-San Diego and the Purdue University.

Artificially sweetened soft drinks also generally contain higher concentration of caffeine. That and the psychological effect of “Diet” labeling can cause the person to consume significantly high amount of these types of soft drinks.

For above mentioned reasons artificially sweetened soft drinks are only recommended as a transition drink from regular soda to taking the soft drinks out of diet completely.


So What’s the Verdict?

Having a soft drink now & then is not an issue and depriving yourself or your children of your favorite carbonated drink is definitely not a very smart decision. The time to worry is when it becomes a habit & a part of your regular diet, more so if it becomes a part of your daily diet. It’s actually pretty simple: ask yourself how many cans of soda you have had within the last 30 days. That should tell you everything you need to know…