Some Refreshing News about America’s Soda Habit

Here’s some refreshing news about Americans and soda: We’re finally drinking less of the stuff.

soda can topTen years ago, on any given day, over 61% of adults and nearly 80% of kids drank such beverages, none of which are particularly friendly to teeth (not to mention the rest of you).

According to new research in the journal Obesity, in 2014, just 50% of adults and 60.7% of children drank them.

Of course, that still leaves a lot of us drinking a lot of sugar. Still, such a significant reduction is an important step forward.

The study monitored data from 18,600 children and over 27,652 adults across 10 years of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

This overall decline in both beverage and [sugar-sweetened beverage] consumption is consistent with previous literature, suggesting a recent “turning point” toward lower energy intake in the US diet, potentially attributable to widespread discussion and media coverage of the role of certain foods (e.g., SSBs) in promoting obesity, changes to food allowances within the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, improvements to school feeding programs, and product reformulations by food manufacturers and retailers.

On the downside, consumption rates remain highest among black, Mexican American, and non-Mexican Hispanic teens – all groups at high risk of obesity and diabetes.

On the upside, the study also found that fruit juice consumption is down, as well. As we’ve noted before, fruit juice is essentially concentrated sugar and a major cause of tooth decay among young children in particular.

boy getting drink of waterWhat kids are drinking more of is what we all should be drinking more of: water.

Among children, the prevalence of 100% juice consumption declined significantly among 12- to 19-year-olds, water increased significantly across all age groups, and no significant changes were seen for coffee and tea, milk, or diet beverage consumption for any age group.

And this may not be a short term trend. Earlier this year, a major trade publication noted that soda sales have been declining for twelve years and counting.

The per capita consumption of soda drinks, including energy drinks, fell to about 642 8-ounce servings last year, the lowest level since 1985, when the Beverage Digest began tracking consumption trends….

Despite the fact that two of the biggest of the soda companies suspiciously fund 96 US health groups – including the American Diabetes Association and the National Institutes of Health – more people are seeing this as little more than an attempt to influence public health policy and maintain profits. Consumer education has been a big help, as have soda taxes, with the money going to fund various health programs.

In 2015, Berkeley, California introduced a soda tax after years of battling the industry. They’ve now seen a drop in sales by nearly 10% – and a spike in water sales, as well.

One year following implementation of the nation’s first large SSB tax, prices of SSBs increased in many, but not all, settings, SSB sales declined, and sales of untaxed beverages (especially water) and overall study beverages rose in Berkeley; overall consumer spending per transaction in the stores studied did not rise. Price increases for SSBs in two distinct data sources, their timing, and the patterns of change in taxed and untaxed beverage sales suggest that the observed changes may be attributable to the tax.

That said, water doesn’t always satisfy the urge for a sweet soft drink, especially if you’re going through a detox by gradually reducing your sugar intake. Here are some alternatives to consider:

  • Drink tea – hot or cold. Many spice teas have an inherent sweetness, as do some herb teas such as ginger lemon.
  • Splash a bit of lemon or lime into your water.
  • Infuse your own water with fruit, herbs, or vegetables. Here are a few ideas.
  • Make a veg-centric smoothie. Here are some tips for making sure yours is balanced and not a sugar-bomb.
  • Make your own fresh juice with fresh vegetables and fruit. Again, balance is key. Think green.

Bottom image by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

The Impact of Drinking Sugar

You may have seen this image making the rounds on social media lately – a powerful reminder of soda’s impact on your health:

impact of soda

But one thing it neglects to mention happens within the first 30 seconds of drinking pop: It damages the enamel covering your teeth. Enamel. The hardest tissue in the human body. The one tissue your body has no way of making more of.

Zoom into a Tooth by Weird_Weird_Science

As enamel is worn away and the more delicate dentin is exposed, the teeth become sensitive and more vulnerable to decay. Research has shown that among heavy soda drinkers, the damage can be as severe as that wreaked by meth and crack.

Of course, soda is merely among the worst offenders. All similarly sugary and acidic drinks are the issue: fruit juice and juice-based drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened teas, flavored waters. So even as soda consumption has finally started to go down, enamel erosion continues to be a big problem.

According to research published earlier this year, nearly 80% of adults show some sign of it. Most cases are mild, but 15% had signs of moderate to severe erosion. As we noted before, this is one reason why tooth decay is eventually an issue for virtually all adults.

Along with sugary and acidic snacks, sweetened beverages are a terror for teeth – a fact most recently confirmed in a study published right at the start of this month. This meta-analysis of past studies found that the more sugary, acidic products you consume, the more erosion. They also found that milk and yogurt “had a protective effect.”

And that only makes sense. For one, dairy has also been shown to have a neutral or alkalinizing effect in the mouth. Cheese, especially, may help prevent cavities, according to research published in General Dentistry. It also provides something those other products inherently lack: the nutritional building blocks for remineralizing teeth and bone, keeping them strong and resilient.

There’s a choice that, consciously or not, each of us makes repeatedly each day: Do we give our body what it needs to do its job or do we confound it by throwing up roadblocks to optimal health? Do we support the body’s self-regulating, self-healing capacities or undermine them?

Give your body the nutrition it needs, it knows what to do.

Acids & Sugars & Restaurants – Oh, My!

shocked expressionEarlier this summer, a couple studies were published that rocked the dental world.

Well, not really. In fact, the findings leaned a bit toward the obvious. Yet each study did add a little something new to the old story of unhealthy habits.

Let’s start with the first, published in the Journal of Dentistry. Researchers confirmed that soda is bad for your teeth. The twist? They found that the damage begins within 30 seconds of exposure. Thirty seconds!

That’s all the time that acids in sodas, fruit juices, and energy drinks need to harm your teeth. And as one of the study’s authors put it,

If high acidity drinks are consumed, it is not simply a matter of having a child clean their teeth an hour or 30 minutes later and hoping they’ll be okay – the damage is already done.

Of course, that damage is entirely preventable, simply by avoiding soft drinks, fruit juice and other highly acidic beverages – or, barring that, at least consuming less.

For more on the problem of acidic and sugary drinks, see our previous post.

The second study — this one published in Public Health Nutrition — showed that fast food is less than healthy. What else is new, right? But did you realize that full-service, sit-down restaurants aren’t all that much better? Eating out typically means more calories, more sugar, more saturated fats and more sodium.

The study found on days when eating at a fast-food restaurant, there was a net increase of total energy intake (194.49 kcal), saturated fat (3.48 g), sugar (3.95 g) and sodium (296.38 mg). Eating at a full-service restaurant was also associated with an energy intake (205.21 kcal), and with higher intake of saturated fat (2.52 g) and sodium (451.06 mg).

Too often when people go out to eat, they treat it as a “when in Rome” experience and order indulgently, with little consideration given to its healthfulness. You can easily wind up loading your body with foods that taste great but hardly substantial nutrition. (And consider how common it is to wash down those meals with a perpetually refilled glass of soda!)

Sure, the occasional meal out is fine. Sometimes it’s necessary. But day in and day out, preparing meals at home is the best choice you can make for consistently healthful eating. By preparing the food yourself, you know how much (if any) sugar or salt has been added. You know your ingredients. You control the portion sizes.

And then eating out once again becomes the nice indulgence it once was.

Image by Nicolas Connault