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.