Soda lovers, brace yourselves: drinking just two cans a day may lead to early death or chronic disease. So says new research published last week in JAMA.
Here’s the real kicker: it doesn’t matter if the soda is sugar-laden or not. Both are bad.
The study, which is one of the largest of its kind, looked at the soda intake of 451,743 men and women from 10 countries in Europe.
Researchers found that consumption of two or more glasses of artificially sweetened soft drinks a day was associated with deaths from circulatory diseases.
For sugar-sweetened soft drinks, one or more glasses a day were associated with deaths from digestive diseases, including diseases of the liver, appendix, pancreas, and intestines.
People from Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden were enrolled in the study between 1992 and 2000. Researchers gathered data on the participants’ intake in a single assessment at baseline. Participants were excluded if there were reported incidents of cancer, heart disease, stroke or diabetes. The mean age of participants was 50.8, and 71.1 percent were women.
While this information had made waves online, it’s long been known soda isn’t the most nutritious beverage.
“The nutritional value that comes from soda is mainly the calories and carbohydrates from sugar as well as water for hydration,” says Katherine Carithers, MHA, RD, LDN, a clinical nutrition manager at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center. “There is also usually some sodium and phosphorus in dark colas. This nutritional value does not add any real benefit or value to the consumer, as these nutrients are highly available in other more healthful options.”
So what is a soda lover to do amidst these grim tidings?
“I recommend that people avoid or at least reduce their soda and soft drink intake,” Carithers said.
Regular, sugar-sweetened sodas add excess calories and carbohydrates to the diet that can easily lead to over-consumption.
Previous studies have associated soft drink consumption with obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and mortality, but it is important to underscore that epidemiological studies show a correlation, not causation.
The new study also showed positive associations between total soft drink consumption and all-cause mortality at limits of two or more glasses per day compared to those who consumed less than one glass per month.
One way to cut down on your soda consumption is to infuse water with fruits like lemon, lime or strawberry. Another healthy option for soda is seltzer water.
It’s important, however, to recognize a study’s limitations. An occasional soda or soft drink does not equal an early death.
“Sometimes studies like this come out and it causes a lot of buzz,” Carithers said. “People should be encouraged to balance their diet overall.”
For more tips on curbing your soda intake, speak with your health care provider.