Is Soda Worse Than Alcohol?

Earlier this week I was catching up with my boyfriend Art after he got back from his trip to Chicago. He had told me his friend was drinking soda all week and said he had drank some too.

Through my background as a dietitian, I am aware of the dangers of soda consumption. So I was shocked and disappointed when he had told me indulged in the fizzy sweetness, especially since he had been soda free for almost a year.

He was surprised by my reaction and thought I would be happier if he was drinking soda as opposed to alcohol, which is common at the convention he was attending. Depending on how much he was drinking, I almost rather have him drink booze.

This made me start to think, is soda worse than alcohol?

In this week’s newsletter, I’ll describe the good, the bad, and what happens to our bodies when this stuff is metabolized.

So what are these beverages made up of?
Soft drinks or soda contain carbonated water, a sweetener, caramel color, phosphoric acid, artificial and natural flavors, caffeine, and a preservative known as sodium benzoate. The sweetener consists usually of sugar, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), or artificial sweeteners.

Alcohol is made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Known as ethyl alcohol or ethanol it is the stuff in beer, wine, and liquor that makes you drunk. Alcohol is produced when yeast, sugar, and starch are fermented from different sugar sources. Grapes are used to make wine, wheat or malted barley are used to make beer, sugar cane or molasses are used to make rum, and vodka is made from grains, potatoes, beets, molasses or other plants.

So are there any redeeming qualities in theses drinks?

Benefits of Soda?
While, soda is devoid of any nutrients, it is a liquid and some claim it helps with hydration. This is a weak argument since caffeine is a diuretic and will cause dehydration.

Additionally, the caffeine may act as a good pick-me-up for those who are low on energy. This lethargy may actually be a result of an underlying nutrient deficiency.

Benefits of Alcohol?
Like soda, alcohol does not contain any nutrients, with the exception of Red Wine which has the antioxidant resveratrol. Resveratrol reduces inflammation in the body. However, the content of this compound is low and you would have to drink several bottles a day to gain any benefit. Studies show consuming one to two glasses of red wine may lower chances of heart disease, risk of stroke, and early death in individuals.

Antioxidants such as catechin, epicatechin, and proanthocyanidins have been found to reduce the risk of colon, basal cell, ovary, and prostate cancers. It also lowers the chances of depression, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes in women. It should be noted that this is with MODERATE consumption of 1 to 1 ½ glasses a day for WOMEN, and 1 to 2 glasses a day for MEN.

Why do we want to avoid these beverages?

Dangers of Sugar
One 12 ounce can of coke contains 39 grams of sugar. This is the equivalent of 9.2 teaspoons. According to the American Heart Association men should not exceed more than 37.5 grams (9 teaspoons) of added sugar per day. Women should not have more than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day.

So even if you have only one can of soda you are exceeding the recommended added sugar intake for the day by 1.5 grams (0.35 teaspoons) more for men and 14 grams (3 teaspoons) more for women. This does not even include what other additional foods with added sugar may be eaten.

Aside from sugar there are preservatives, artificial coloring and caffeine found in this drink. The preservative sodium benzoate and the artificial coloring 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI) sometimes used in drinks are possible cancer causing agents. As mentioned before, caffeine is a natural diuretic so you are most likely not getting any hydration when you drink this stuff. Caffeine is also a stimulant and can be habit forming. Pair that with the addictive quality of sugar and you may be hooked from your first sip.

Inflammation and Weight Gain
Studies show that soda causes inflammation as well as increases cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and risk of heart disease. It decreases the signal to the hypothalamus gland which tells the brain you are full. This will make the body think that you are still hungry and want more sweet stuff. Soda contains a lot of empty calories and is attributed to weight gain. Consuming 1 to 2 cans per day increases the risk for type 2 diabetes by 26 percent.

Soda is BAD for bones.
Soda contains phosphoric acid. This high level of phosphate can lead to calcium depletion and deteriorate bones. It throws off the mineral balance and can also affect vitamin D and vitamin K levels in the blood. This over time can increase risk of osteoporosis. Phosphoric acid can also erode enamel on teeth and cause decay leading to cavities.

So is diet soda OK?
I know you are probably thinking, “Well diet soda does not have any sugar so it is okay to drink, right?” Some research finds nothing wrong with using artificial sweeteners but there is conflicting evidence that shows these sugar replacements confuse your body. Since they are as many as 100 times sweeter than naturally sweet foods, they will dull your senses and make your crave sugar. Observational studies say that diet soda may lead to weight gain and type 2 diabetes in women. It also puts people at risk for heart disease and high cholesterol. There is also a strong link between diet soda and obesity. So overall this drink may not be any better than regular soda.

Dangers of Alcohol

While moderate consumption of red wine has been shown to beneficial to our health, an excessive intake can cause major problems. Like soda alcohol also dehydrates the body. Furthermore, too many glasses per day can increase your risk of heart disease. You should also be aware of the quality of wine. Not all drinks are created equal; some are made from cheap ingredients and may possess nitrates that can be carcinogenic. It is best to drink non-GMO, organic alcohol if possible.

Alcohol is a legal a drug. It changes your body chemistry and can be addictive to some individuals. Drinking impairs motor functions and sometimes leads to poor decision making. It can result in brain damage and is linked to depression when consumed in excess. Alcohol can cause birth defects in unborn fetuses and should not be consumed by pregnant women.

While there are no nutrients in these beverages, there are still calories and this can cause you to put on the pounds. The high content of fat will get deposited in the abdomen creating a big gut. This is why they call it a “beer belly.” Too much belly fat creates inflammation which can be lethal to the surrounding organs.

Aside from empty calories, drinking alcohol increases how much food you eat. Studies have shown that consumption in the short-term creates feelings of hunger and makes you want to stuff your face. Having poor judgment and a case of the munchies may lead to snacking that you might not have intended for.

When alcohol is digested it depletes the body of needed nutrients like thiamin, b12, folic acid, and zinc. Too much drinking can lead to deficiencies in these nutrients which can have devastating effects such as leaky gut syndrome, diarrhea and constipation, nerve damage, and alcoholic dementia.

How are these beverages digested?
After we drink these beverages they are broken down into sugar.

In soda, sugar and/or HFCS must go through the liver to be digested. There they are stored as an energy source called glycogen. If the body does not use the glycogen for energy through activity or exercise, it will turn into fat. Some fat will be transported to the blood and some will stay in the liver. If there is a build up of fat in the liver, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease will develop. Too much fat in the blood can lead to high cholesterol, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.

Alcohol is not digested like other foods; 20 percent is absorbed in the stomach and 80 percent is absorbed in the small intestine. The body sees alcohol as a toxin so it is sent to the liver to be processed. Constant drinking can put a strain on the liver. Alcoholic fatty liver disease can develop because alcohol breaks down to acetate and the sugar turns into fat. Fat deposits build up in the cells of the liver causing it to become full of fat.

So What is the Final Verdict?

Knowing how addictive sugar can be and how even a small amount of soda can exceed the daily sugar intake, soda should be avoided like the plague. The conflicting body of research on diet soda is also alarming and shows no benefit from drinking it. It will ruin your bones, your teeth, and your waistline. If you are currently drinking diet or regular soda you should try to limit your consumption in order to wean yourself off this addictive substance. If you are not currently drinking it, don’t start.

Limited alcohol consumption has some benefits, but there is a fine line between moderate drinking and excess consumption. As rule of thumb stick to good quality alcohol and be sure to have a drink of water in between so you keep yourself a little hydrated. If you currently are not drinking do not start. If you find you are drinking more than the daily recommended intake maybe cut back a day.

For hydration, water is the best source. Don’t like the taste of plain water? I have included a way to make your water refreshing and give you some extra vitamin C. See my recipe.