I’ve had many clients who were avid cola drinkers, even using their Coke or Pepsi as a breakfast coffee substitute. I also have seen plenty of people who readily recognized that they were addicted to sodas — using several of these drinks a day to stay alert and functioning. Somewhere deep down, I believe all of us know sodas are not nourishing but not all of us are fully aware of the detailed relationship between soda and bone health.
Even so, because so many of us continue to drink soda, I don’t believe we truly understand the detrimental effects on our health. Especially when you consider the average American consumes nearly 45 gallons of soda a year. We drink more soda than any other beverage, including bottled water (28.3 gallons), beer (20.8 gallons), and milk (20.4 gallons), according to 2010 figures from the Beverage Marketing Corporation.
Excessive soda use paves the way for many degenerative diseases including diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, tooth decay, and osteoporosis.
For example, researchers studied soda and bone health and found the effect of drinking three cola-type sodas or more a day. They found that women who drank cola — whether regular, diet, or noncaffeinated — had nearly 4% lower bone mineral density in the hip. (Non-cola sodas were not found to have the same effect; nor did the men in the study show lower hip bone density.) For young girls the data is even stronger documenting increased fracture risk with soda use. In fact, studies show a 3 to 5 fold increase in fractures among teenage girls who regularly consume acidic soft drink beverages.
Bone experts have several ideas as to why soda and bone health are related:
• Many colas contain phosphoric acid. As the body tries to neutralize the acid, it is forced to draw substantial amounts of alkalizing calcium compounds from our bones.
• Many sodas contain caffeine. Caffeine may increase your body’s excretion of calcium, contributing to lower bone density.
• The “replacement” theory. This is the idea that the more soda you drink, the less likely you are to choose water and other more healthful beverages.
The damaging effects of each ingredient on your bones are cumulative and additive. And, in addition to the caffeine, phosphoric acid, and other chemical additives, a regular 12-ounce soda contains 9–10 teaspoons of sugar — usually in the guise of high-fructose corn syrup.
So what are some healthy, summer-refreshing alternatives? If you are looking for the caffeine boost, iced green tea is an excellent choice. Alkalizing fruit spritzers made with soda, spring, or mineral water give a healthful lift. Fresh squeezed lemon or lime with a bit of raw cane sugar alkalizes while it refreshes. Iced fruit smoothies are delicious and chuck full of antioxidants, much less fresh-from-the garden carrot and vegetable juices.
Right now I’m going to start my day with a “green drink” — juicing greens and celery from my garden along with a few carrots and an apple. I bet you also have creative ideas for alternatives to soda for you and your family. I’d love to hear about your favorites. Be conscious of the relationship between soda and bone health. Be well and enjoy every minute of the summer!
Tucker, K., et al 2006. Colas, but not other carbonated beverages, are associated with low bone mineral density in older women: The Framingham Osteoporosis Study. Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 84 (4), 936–994.
Wyshak, G and Frisch, RE., 1994 ; Wyshak, G,2000. “Teenaged girls, carbonated beverage consumption and bone fractures”. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. June, 2000, Vol 154, No. 6. pages 610-613.
Fernando, G., et al. 1999. Consumption of soft drinks with phosphoric acid as a risk factor for the development of hypocalcemia in postmenopausal women. J. Clin. Epidemiol., 52 (10), 1007–1010.
Taylor, E., & Curhan, G. 2009. Demographic, dietary, and urinary factors and 24-h urinary calcium excretion. Clin. J. Am. Soc. Nephrol., 4 (12), 1980–1987.
Greer, B. Food Works. University of Tennessee Extension Document # SP468.