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Can Soft Drinks Be Healthy?

New sodas are aimed at health-conscious consumers but fall short experts say.

Diet Soft Drinks vs. Regular

Consumers are turning away from sugary sodas because of the potential link to obesity. Yet "there is very little evidence that diet sodas help people lose weight," says Nestle. "In fact, one study suggested that people use diet drinks to help justify eating more calories."

Experts do agree that low- or no-calorie soft drinks are better than sugary regular sodas.

"It is fine to enjoy a diet soda as long as you don’t use them as a license to add more calories from other foods. Because some people drink a diet drink so they can eat a big piece of cake," says Nestle. 

Diet soft drinks are also helpful for consumers who are hooked on regular sodas and trying to wean themselves off the sugary beverages.

Liquid Calories Add Up Quickly

Liquid calories can lead to weight gain because beverages go down so easily. They may satisfy thirst, but they don't affect hunger. So people who drink sugary sodas don't generally take in fewer calories from food to compensate. 

"Lots of people don’t think about what they are drinking and how it impacts the overall diet," says Johnson. "The average American gets 22% of their calories from beverages."

Indeed, a recent study from Yale University analyzed 88 soda studies and found a clear link between soft drink intake and consumption of extra calories.

"The most compelling studies showed that, on days when people drink soft drinks, they consumed more calories than on the days when they did not have soft drinks," study co-author Marlene Schwartz tells WebMD.

When you do want a regular soda, Nestle suggests that you think of it as dessert.

"If we treated a can of regular soda like a dessert, it would help keep extra calories under control," she says.

The Bottom Line

The experts agree that there is no harm in enjoying a low- or no-calorie soft drink. But they point out that the additives in some of the new sodas -- no matter how healthy sounding -- are either unnecessary or are added in such small quantities that they don't do anything for your health.  

Nestle would rather see people choose beverages with nothing artificial added, such as a glass of sparkling water sweetened with real fruit juice. 

Her advice: Consume the most natural foods and beverages, and always read the label. Check calories first, followed by sugar calories. Equipped with the facts, you can select the drink that's right for you. 

And keep in mind, Johnson says, that soft drinks have no place in the diets of children 11 and under.

"Soft drinks do not belong in young children’s diets," says Johnson. "Because they need so many nutrients for growth and development, there is little room for soft drinks unless they are extremely active -- and even then it should only be an occasional treat."


Published May 9, 2007.

Reviewed on May 09, 2007

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