Tackling the Misinformation on ‘Healthy’ Soda

Children Drink A Lot of Soda

If you’ve been following the news lately, you might have seen a lot of press about soft drinks. The New York Times recently published an article about how Coca Cola has been funding researchers to publish results that make their products seem healthy. San Francisco was also recently sued by the American Beverage Association, which represents the interests of companies that sell sugary drinks, for passing laws that would put health warning labels on their drinks. In reading through some of the legal documents, I was struck by the way soda companies were arguing that sugary beverages have nothing to do with the obesity and diabetes epidemics surging in our country. With all we know about how unhealthy these products are, how could that be? I want to some time this week to talk about the misinformation these companies are using to trick you and to help you try to figure out what to believe.

Not All Calories Are Alike
Beverage companies want to make it seem as though the source of the calories you eat matters less than the number you eat. The problem is, we’ve seen time and again in a variety of studies that not all calories are created equal. We know that fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains lead to better health than potato chips, candy bars and soda. They might have similar calorie counts, but their effect on your body is radically different.

Some of that is because different sugars are broken down in different ways by your body and can have different effects on your metabolism. The differences in digestion of these foods can also play a role. But there’s a lot we still don’t understand that probably has to do with the complex ways our body handles the nutrients present in fruits and vegetables that makes them so much better for us than processed foods.

Ultimately, beverage companies want you to think it doesn’t matter so that you’ll choose their drinks over healthier options. But it does matter and choosing a diet low in added sugar and high in fresh, whole foods is the best way to take care of your body.

Drinks With Added Sugars Are a Big Part of the Problem
There’s a lot of evidence to indicate that drinking something with added sugar boosts your risk of obesity and diabetes. That includes soda as well as some juices, juice drinks, sports drinks, vitamin drinks, sweetened teas and a whole host of other drinks. Unlike junk food, these drinks deliver sugar quickly to your bloodstream without making you feel full. Even if you drink enough to fill up, that sensation of being full quickly disappears and leaves you wanting more.

On top of that, we often don’t think of drinks as having calories. You use them to wash down a meal or cool off on a hot day. Unfortunately, that drink has just added hundreds of calories to your diet. Study after study has shown that drinking those extra calories on a regular basis increases your risk for obesity and diabetes, two of the most damaging health problems plaguing our country.

What The Studies Say
If you hear arguments from the beverage industry, they’ll tell you the research about drinks with added sugar is mixed. But the expose on Coca Cola’s relationship with the Global Energy Balance Network has shown us that results can be bought by a company that needs to prove their point of view. The studies funded by Coke and other beverage companies often show no relationship between drinking sugary drinks like soda and health problems. But if you think for a moment it’s not hard to see why a company that makes a living selling sugary drinks would want research showing they aren’t harmful and may even be healthy.

If you take even a quick glance over independent research done on how these drinks influence disease risk, you’ll find that the majority of well-done studies show a strong relationship between them. The vast majority of physicians and health experts are in agreement that soda and drinks with added sugar damage your health.

Where You Can Go For Information
The best source of information on health and nutrition is your doctor or a registered dietitian (look for the RD degree). These people not only have the training to know what is and isn’t part of healthy diet, but they also know where to get more information if you have questions they can’t answer immediately. Be wary of internet sources of information and news sites. They often make a big deal about a single study that may be misleading because of the way it was done or the way the data was analyzed. Instead, look to government information sources like ChooseMyPlate.gov or professional health associations like the American Heart Association.

Don’t be fooled by the beverage industry. If they could choose between your health and your wallet, they’d choose your wallet every time. If you’re trying to lose weight, follow my plan to cut out sugar-sweetened beverages, including drinks like sports drinks that might look healthy. Doing so can dramatically cut your calories and put you on the road to better health.