We all know soda's not exactly good, but at the same time, it can be very hard to resist as its sweet taste, pleasant fizz and energizing jolt often seems like just what you need to wash down your dinner, get you through an afternoon slump or quench your thirst at the movies.
While soda is very hard to resist, the more soda you consume (regular or diet), the more hazardous your habit can become, and whether you're a regular drinker or an occasional soft-drink sipper, cutting back can likely have benefits for your weight and your overall health.
The biggest risk for regular soda drinkers is the excess calories, says Lona Sandon, RD, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. "The calories in regular soda are coming entirely from added sugar, and you're not getting any value in terms of vitamins or minerals, or even good quality carbohydrates," she says.
Studies have shown that its consumption is linked with tooth decay and diabetes, and it also seems to be bad for your bones.
"It may have something to do with the phosphorus in soda, or it could be that people are drinking soda instead of other beverages -- like milk -- that have nutrients necessary for healthy bones," Sandon says.
Sugar-free sodas may not have any calories, but that doesn't mean they're any good for you, in fact, they may not even help you lose weight.
Plus, diet drinks have many of the same health risks as regular soft drinks, including tooth decay and bone thinning, and they've also been linked to heart disease and depression in women.
Switching to diet sodas may be a smart first step if you're trying to eliminate excess calories, says Sandon, but your best bet is to eventually give them up, too.
Here's how to make the transition easier.
Wean yourself off slowly- That news may be enough to convince you that you should stop drinking soda, but it could still be easier said than done. "People really can become addicted to soda, so you have to be a realist and not an idealist," says nutritionist Stefanie Sacks, author of the forthcoming book What the Fork Are You Eating?. "I don't recommend going cold turkey; you need to wean yourself off, just like you would anything you've become dependent on." If you typically drink multiple servings of soda a day, Sacks suggests first cutting back to one a day. Give that two weeks, then switch to three sodas a week. "It gives you a chance to adjust gradually, which should lead to real, sustainable change," says Sacks.
Mix it with water- Sandon also recommends weaning yourself slowly off soda, and sometimes suggests that her clients start drinking half-soda, half-water. "You're automatically drinking less and hydrating and filling up with water, which is a good thing," she says. But there's an added advantage, as well: "It cuts back on the sweetness you get from soda, which is one of the things people get really used to. If you're drinking less sugar, your taste buds will change and soon you won't need that sweetness anymore."
Drink a glass of water first-
Whenever the urge to drink a soda hits, fill up a big glass of ice water and finish that first. "A lot of times, people drink soda just because they're bored, or they're thirsty, and that's what's available or that's what they're used to," says Sacks. If you're still craving a soda after you've downed your H2O, then you can reconsider whether it's really worth it -- but chances are your thirst will be quenched and you'll feel satisfied from just the water. (You can make this work while you're out and about, too, by always carrying a bottle of water with you.)
Steer clear of soda triggers- You may notice that you only drink soda in certain places or situations: In the afternoon at the office, for example, or when you eat at a certain restaurant. You may not be able to completely avoid these scenarios -- you've still got to go to work and should still enjoy eating out -- but you may be able to change those bad habits.
Try it for two weeks- Weaning yourself off something gradually works best for most people, says Sacks, but some may want to try the cold turkey approach. If you plan to go that route, think of it as a temporary change: Giving soda up for two weeks or a month may be easier and more manageable than ditching it forever. The best part about this trick? Once your time is up, you may not even want to go back to soda -- at least not at the frequency you drank it before. "We acquire a taste for sugar depending on how much we have on a daily basis," says Sandon. "If you cut out soda for a while, you may be surprised at how sweet it tastes ones you go back." (Want extra help with the cold-turkey method? Enlist friends to take the challenge with you.)
Save it for special occasions- Once you're able to break your regular soda habit and the drink loses its grip on you, it can be treated just like any other junk food: If you really love the taste, there's nothing wrong with an occasional indulgence, says Sacks. "If it's your gotta-have-it food, then by all means splurge on a soda now and then," she says. In fact, knowing that you can have a soda on your cheat day or during a special night out may help you resist them on a more regular basis. "Just do it from a place of education: If you understand that soda is essentially just sugar and artificial flavorings, then you can be more smart about when or if you're going to drink it."