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Soft Drinks: Easy Greening

Soft Drinks: Easy Greening

America’s first sodas were made by pharmacists for curative purposes and were flavored with ingredients like birch bark and dandelions. Today’s soft drinks are chock full of artificial ingredients and are proven to increase health risks. Soda vending machines are like kid magnets, and with vending machines in many schools it’s a great time to consider healthier alternatives. (For us adults, too!) Here’s why you should just say no to soda, and what to wet your whistle with instead.

We are so surrounded by soda that it’s easy to think that a daily pop is fine. But studies show that consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks not only increases weight but also increases the risk of other health issues.

Believe it or not, the average 10- to 12-year-old boy consumes the equivalent of 15 teaspoons of refined sugar a day from drinking soft drinks. Teenage girls are taking in about 10 teaspoons a day. Sound like a lot? It is, and equals the government’s recommended daily limit for sugar from all food.

It comes as no surprise then to hear that studies by the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health found that children and adults who drink soft drinks regularly are heavier on average, in addition to being much more likely to develop diabetes later in life. One study showed that women who drank a minimum of one soda a day could increase their chance of developing type-2 diabetes by a staggering 85 percent!

Products that use artificial sweeteners pose some concern as well. Sucralose, known as Splenda, is marketed as a “natural” sweetener since it is derived from sugar (what a great pitch) but is rendered unrecognizable as a natural ingredient after the intensive processing it receives in the lab. Long term studies have not been conducted on Splenda, and many believe it will eventually prove harmful to our health. Other artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, are suspect as well.

Besides the sugar content which adds to tooth decay, most soft drinks are also acidic—frequent sipping of these low-pH drinks can have adverse effects on tooth enamel, namely in the form of erosion.

Studies show that children who drink soda drink less milk, and that decrease in calcium can be a huge problem because soda further decreases calcium in the body. The high level of phosphates in soda leads to calcium loss in the bones. Kids who drink soda have a risk of bone fractures three to four times higher than those who do not drink soda. This bone mineralization also can lead to osteoporosis.

One last thing to know about soda is this: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other agencies have found that some sodas commonly sold in the States have concentrations of benzene above the legal limit set for drinking water. Benzene is not added, but can occur as a reaction between phosphoric acid and preservatives used in some sodas. Benzene is classified as a known human carcinogen by the EPA, and is associated with leukemia, aplastic anemia and other blood diseases.

Recent studies show that pre-schoolers are now beginning to show up with soda in their lunchboxes, and that there is an increasing trend in drinking soda with (and sometimes instead of) breakfast. Good golly! It’s time to open our eyes to the power of soda marketing and try some of these mouth-watering alternatives!

1. The best alternative is water, water and water. At school, make sure your kids know where the drinking fountains are! And fill a reusable, inert water bottle with filtered water from your tap. (See Easy Greening: Water Bottles for information about water bottles and where to buy safe reusable ones.)

2. Fruit juice mixed with sparkling water. Juice is packed with vitamins, but is also high in natural sugars so consumption of straight juice should be limited to 6 ounces per day.

3. Organic milk or milk alternatives (rice milk, almond milk, goat milk—we fell utterly in love with hemp milk during one of our vegan spells).

4. Flavored milk (or milk alternative). If you absolutely can’t get your child to drink plain milk, keep this in mind: The Adolescent Health journal found that even dairy products with added sugar are significantly better than soda in the development of children and adolescents. We suggest making your own with organic milk and vanilla extract or organic chocolate: This way you can control the amount of sugar.

5. Homemade healthy cream soda. Mix equal parts milk (or milk alternative) and sparkling water, add a little honey and vanilla extract. Serve over ice.

6. All-natural, low-sugar soft drinks. These are better than conventional sodas, but they still create a “taste” for soda. Some believe it is better to get out of the soda mind-set altogether.

Read more: Family, Children, Eco-friendly tips, Green Kitchen Tips, Healthy Schools, Smart Shopping

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

60 comments

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2:17AM PDT on Aug 19, 2012

And milk also creates calcium loss because it is an animal protein, therefore acidic. That people still don't know that is really scary. And as someone else said on this thread, Veganism is not a "spell", it is a lifestyle, an ethical stance.

2:14AM PDT on Aug 19, 2012

They should get Vegan spells more often. There is nothing healthy or even natural about drinking the milk of another species.

6:48PM PDT on Mar 24, 2011

I haven't had any soda in the past year except for a small cup of natural sugar Hansen soda. I was interested however that some sodas contain benzene.

3:48PM PDT on Aug 27, 2010

Thank you!

9:45PM PDT on Mar 16, 2010

I mainly drink water and a little bit of juice and soy milk. I do like soda but probably only drink 8-12 a year. My main concern was trying to not make anymore recycling in my house, as well as health concerns.

3:21PM PST on Jan 7, 2010

I never was a big soda drinker, and I'm quite glad after reading this. And like someone else has already pointed out, the artificial sweeteners in diet soda could actually be even worse for you than the sugar in normal soda.

1:40AM PST on Jan 7, 2010

I stopped drinking soda years ago, initially as part of a diet, but then realized i lost any taste for it after not drinking it
I also realized how many empty calories come from soda and the racking level of sugar
and while I have read the comments about the negatives of milk and the milk industry, i think it is a matter of priorities and at what level you are at
If all you drink is soda then i think milk is a much better option, despite its downfalls
so in soda vs. milk, i say any kind of milk wins, even whole milk with chocolate. it'll add up the sugar but still less chemicals any way you put it
if you pass that one and switch to milk, then start thinking about milk alternatives and etc

6:00PM PST on Dec 7, 2009

I have never been a bid soada drinker, and don't keep it in my house. I found this article after searching for info on splenda. I did however enjoy the article and it made me grateful that it was never a big issue with my family.

11:02AM PDT on Jun 19, 2009

thankyou...
Kabin
Konteyner
mega kabin

6:29PM PDT on Jun 10, 2009

Veganism isn't a "spell." If you could care less about animals, it's nothing but a strict vegetarian diet.

I don't drink soda, but come on... is it really necessary to suggest MILK as an alternative? After all the health problems dairy is proven to cause? I think the deceitful dairy commercials are already doing a good enough job advertising...

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