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Help for Soda Lovers

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

No Need to Go Cold Turkey

Soda is certainly not an ideal drink from a health standpoint -- it offers no nutritional value and can be high in sugar, sodium, and caffeine. But the good news, experts say, is that if you truly love it, there's no need to give it up completely.

If you generally watch what you eat and are reasonably active, a soda or two a day isn't going to derail your efforts, says Tavis Piattoly, RD, director of performance enhancement at Ochsner Clinic's Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans.

But if you regularly drink two, three, or more cans a day, the added sugar can pile on the pounds "unless, of course, the soft drinks are planned into an overall diet of moderation, variety, and of course, exercise," says Dee Sandquist, RD, manager of nutrition and diabetes at the Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver, Wash.

Keep in mind that when you're trying to adopt a healthier diet, it's not a good idea to completely deprive yourself of treats, Marr says.

"A very Spartan diet without some of your favorite foods is not sustainable," she says. "I encourage people to figure out how to include their favorite foods into their diet."

The Skinny on Diet Sodas

If you're trying to cut calories but don't want to give up soda altogether, switching either to the new lower-calorie sodas or to diet sodas is a good option, says Sandquist.

Extensive research has shown that the artificial sweeteners used in diet sodas are safe (except for people who have the metabolic disorder phenylketonuria or PKU, who should not consume aspartame).

But even with diet drinks, it's not a good idea to overdo. Researchers suggests that artificial sweeteners might interfere with the body's natural ability to count calories based on a food's sweetness. This could make people who consume artificially sweetened items more likely to overindulge in other sweet foods and beverages, say the authors of the study, published in the International Journal of Obesity.

What if you simply don't like the taste of diet drinks? Here are some suggestions from people who have made the switch:

  • Try different brands to see which you find most palatable.
  • Serve it ice-cold.
  • Try adding lemon or lime to spark up the flavor.
  • Take it slow: Start out by pouring a small amount of diet soda into your glass of regular soda, then gradually increase the proportion of diet soda until you get used to the taste.

Beyond Soda

Even better, try some non-soda alternatives. Water is the perfect no-calorie beverage, and you can dress it up by adding citrus slices or a sprig of mint. But when it just won't do, try:

  • 100% fruit juices (while not necessarily lower in calories than soda, these contain important nutrients, Marr says).
  • Nonfat milk, which will also give you a calcium boost.
  • Unsweetened tea. Try green tea (which also contains potentially cancer-preventing phytonutrients) or herbal tea.
  • Seltzer water with a splash of juice. Try orange, grapefruit, cranberry -- even mango or guava.
  • Homemade lemonade -- made with lemon, water, and a small amount of sugar or artificial sweetener.
  • Coffee, black or with skim milk and artificial sweetener. Try it iced in hot weather.

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