Got a soda habit? Here's some advice on how to cut back.
By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column
Soda -- it's everywhere! Even if you wanted to drink something else, you'd be hard-pressed to find it as prominently displayed in vending machines, at fast-food chains, and supermarket checkouts. You might not realize how ubiquitous Coke, Pepsi, and the like are in our society until you try to stop drinking soda.
For some people, drinking several sodas a day is a fierce habit. You know drinking soda is a habit when you find yourself going to the grocery store at 10 p.m. because your refrigerator is tapped out, or you feel like having a tantrum when the drive-through attendant tells you the soda machine is broken. If the idea of drinking one token soda a day is unfathomable, you just might have a serious soda habit.
Why Stop Drinking So Much Soda?
So why would you want to make the effort to kick the soda habit? As the beverage industry out, soft drinks, in and of themselves, aren't necessarily a dietary "don't."
"All of our industry's beverages -- including regular or diet soft drinks -- can be part of a healthy way of life when consumed in moderation and as part of a balanced lifestyle," says Tracey Halliday, a spokesperson for the American Beverage Association.
The problem, say many health experts, is that Americans don't always drink their sodas in moderation. Many believe we should cut back on our intake of the two sweeteners used in sweetened soda: fructose (like the high-fructose corn syrup often used in sodas) and sugar. Calories from beverages make up 21% of the total daily calories consumed by Americans over 2 years old, according to a 2004 article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. And the proportion of calories Americans consume from sweetened soft drinks and fruit "drinks" has tripled between 1977 and 2001.
"Many people either forget or don't realize how many extra calories they consume in what they drink, yet beverages are a major contributor to the alarming increase in obesity," Barry Popkin, PhD, director of the University of North Carolina Interdisciplinary Obesity Program, says in an email interview.
In 2006, a panel of experts assembled by Popkin developed the first Healthy Beverage Guidelines, which recommended people should drink more water and limit or eliminate high-calorie beverages with little or no nutritional value.
So is simply switching to diet soda the answer? Not necessarily, some experts believe.
Popkin has said there's no proof that artificial sweeteners are bad for you, but because the data are slim, the Beverage Guidance Panel was uneasy about recommending them.
Michael Jacobson, executive director of the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), suggests that people who drink diet sodas should choose those sweetened with Splenda when possible.
Of the alternative sweeteners used in soda, CSPI gives the "avoid" label to Acesulfame-K, aspartame, and saccharin, but the "appears to be safe" label to sucralose (Splenda). All these sweeteners have received FDA approval. And, in a 100-page report published in Critical Reviews in Toxicology in September, an expert panel said it was confident aspartame poses no health risks. But CSPI believes those on its "avoid" list need more or better testing.
Still, while Jacobson believes "less is better" when it comes to alternative sweeteners, he concedes that drinking diet soda is better than gulping down the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar -- which is what you'll get in a can of regular soda.
And just how do you go about kicking a soda habit? If you want to stop drinking so much soda, it basically comes down to four steps, according to the experts:
1. Make Up Your Mind. You have to make up your mind to give it up, notes Jacobson. Even if you're just trying to cut back on your soda consumption, it can take a firm commitment to make it happen.
2. Switch to Diet Sodas. Gradually make the switch to diet sodas, suggests Paul Rozin, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. "Just make a small decrease at a time, like one sugared soda a day," he says in an email interview. If you're drinking much more than one soda a day, work toward decreasing the amount of diet sodas you drink as well -- eventually.
3. Go Caffeine-Free. Popkin and Jacobson believe that caffeine, and the fact that it is mildly addictive, is part of the reason soda is such a hard habit to break. Look for caffeine-free soft drinks, and gradually decrease the number of caffeinated drinks you have each day as you work toward kicking the soda habit completely. If you're addicted to the caffeine in soda, you're really kicking two habits -- the soda habit and the caffeine habit. "It takes a few weeks to truly forget the craving," Popkin says.
4. Stock Up on Alternatives. Keep plenty of tasty non-soda drinks on hand to make giving up soda as convenient as possible.
What Are Some Soda Alternatives?
Here is a list of non-soda beverage possibilities to consider. You'll notice the drinks that contain calories also contribute important nutrients like calcium or vitamin C.
- Give Soy Milk a Chance. If you'd like to work in a serving of soy a day, give soy milk a try. Lots of brands and flavors are available. If calories are an issue, try one of the lower-calorie options.
- Don't Skimp on Skim Milk. Skim milk is a great way to boost your intake of protein, calcium, vitamin D, and other important nutrients. One cup of skim milk has only around 85 calories. The Beverage Guidance Panel recommends up to two servings a day of nonfat or 1% milk and fortified soy beverages.
- Pimp Your Water. To an avid soda drinker, water can seem a little unexciting. One of the best ways around that is to add noncaloric flavors to your water. A sprig of mint or a slice of lemon or lemon will do wonders. If you like subtler flavors, try a slice or two of cucumber or a frozen strawberry.
- Make Green or Black Tea Your New Drink Habit. Popkin says tea is a healthy alternative to water for people who prefer flavored beverages. Tea is calorie free and contains powerful phytochemicals like the antioxidant in green tea, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Great-tasting green and black teas abound in supermarkets and specialty stores. If you're cutting back on caffeine, look for caffeine-free teas.
- Think Outside the Juice Box. Although 100% fruit or vegetable juice contains important nutrients, the Beverage Guidance Panel recommends having no more than one serving a day because they can also contain plenty of calories (about 100 in 1 cup of fresh orange or carrot juice). One way to cut those calories is by making a homemade juice spritzer: Combine one or two parts seltzer, mineral water, or club soda with one part 100% fruit juice (try fresh orange juice). Or try the new vegetable juice flavors in your supermarket, as well as fruit and vegetable juice blends. While they're not super low in calories, each serving contains a serving of fruit and a serving of vegetable.
- Discover the Coffee Cure. For java lovers, coffee can be a calorie-free, flavorful alternative to soda. And you can easily find lower-caffeine coffees in coffee shops and supermarkets. But to keep coffee low-calorie, be sure to keep it simple -- skip the syrups, whipped cream, and whole milk.
- Make Good Old H2O Convenient. The Beverage Guidance Panel recommends at least 4 servings a day of water for women and at least 6 servings for men. When you need to quench thirst or hydrate your body, nothing does it better than water. If cold, refreshing water was more convenient, and if we were reminded to drink it during our day, a lot more people would reach this daily goal. So keep water bottles ready to go in your refrigerator, and every time you leave the house, take a bottle with you. If chilled water is sitting in your car or on your desk at work, you'll be more likely to get into the water-drinking habit.
Published November 19, 2007.
SOURCES: Center for Science in the Public Interest web site: "Food Additives." Paul Rozin, PhD, professor of psychology, University of Pennsylvania. Barry Popkin, PhD, director, UNC Interdisciplinary Obesity Program, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Michael Jacobson, PhD, executive director, Center for Science in the Public Interest; author, 6 Arguments for a Greener Diet. Tracey Halliday, director of communications, American Beverage Association. Popkin B.M. et al., American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2006; vol 83: pp 529-42. Nielsen, S.J., et al., American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2004; vol 27: pp 205-210. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Publication No. D291, September 2005: "Herbs At a Glance-Cranberry." WebMD Medical News: "Soft Drinks Up Calorie Counts."
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