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Help for Soda Lovers

What to do when you're a softie for soft drinks.

WebMD Feature

Catherine Gregorczyk says she's an addict -- a soda addict, that is.

"It's hard going out with friends who are more health-conscious than I am and who drink water all the time when all I ever want is a Coke," says Gregorczyk.

Gregorczyk says she even had "a bit of a panic attack" while in Europe one summer, because her beloved Coke is harder to find in some countries "and is way more expensive." She was happy to pay the extra price, though, for the "sugar boost" the soft drink gives her. But is Gregorczyk really addicted to sodas? Not in the clinical sense, says Elisabetta Politi, MPH, RD, CDE, nutrition manager of the Duke University Diet and Fitness Center.

Liz Marr, MS, RD, agrees. "People have an affinity for certain foods, and they develop food habits, but that's not the same thing as an addiction," says Marr, a principal with Marr Barr Communications, a Colorado-based public relations firm specializing in nutrition and health issues.

Still, soft drink lovers will testify that it can be awfully hard to give up the fizzy stuff. One reason is that when we consume something sweet, the taste triggers our brains to release chemicals called opioids -- which make us crave more pleasurable tastes, says Politi.

So why would anyone want to swear off soft drinks? Experts say that, while soft drinks have few useful nutrients, it is among the many sources of excess calories contributing to the U.S. obesity epidemic. Several recent studies bear out the idea that drinking too many soft drinks can affect your health:

  • Research presented at an American Diabetes Association gathering showed that women who went from drinking less than one, non-diet soda a day to one or more daily sodas were nearly twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes over a four-year period as women who drank less than one soft drink a day. (The women who drank more soda also gained more weight over the same period.)
  • A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism suggested that fructose, a sweetener found naturally in fruit juice and typically used in concentrated amounts in soft drinks, may induce a hormonal response in the body that promotes weight gain.
  • Soft drinks, especially light-colored drinks, and canned iced tea appear to "aggressively" erode teeth enamel in laboratory tests -- and it didn't matter whether they were diet drinks or regular ones, according to a study published in General Dentistry.

All this is important because soft drinks are a significant part of the American diet. Of the $80-billion-a-year beverage industry in the U.S., about $64 billion is spent on carbonated soft drinks, says John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest. Regular soda accounts for 72.6% of those sales; diet soda for 27.4%.

Sales of diet soft drinks have been on the rise in the last few years, says Sicher. But growing even more quickly are bottled waters and sports drinks, he says, observing that consumers are looking for beverages that fit in with their health goals.

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