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Soda Nation

Rx for an Overweight Populace Hooked on Soft Drinks

Soft drinks take a hard toll on Americans’ health. According to Beverage Marketing Corporation we consume a yearly average of 50 gallons of soda per person. At about 150 calories a pop, that’s a high price to pay for a little thirst quenching, especially among those who are watching their weight. The fact that such “liquid candy” lacks nutrients and includes harmful chemicals is more impetus to break the habit, as many people are starting to realize.

“The average American gets 22 percent of their calories from beverages,” says registered dietitian Rachel Johnson, a researcher at the University of Vermont. She advises that everyone read labels and consume the most natural drinks.

Many like-minded nutritionists suggest that adults limit their soda consumption to one 12-ounce can a day or less, and that kids drink soda no more than once a week, on special occasions. Johnson says that soft drinks have no place at all in the diets of children 11 and younger.

The reasons are many, starting with empty calories. A single 12-ounce glass of regular soda contains up to 12 teaspoons of sugar (typically high-fructose corn syrup) at 15 calories a teaspoon. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s suggested limit is 12 teaspoons of sugar a day from all food sources in its baseline 2,000-calories-a-day diet.

A recent study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed middle school students choosing sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks over other beverages three-to-one at school vending machines. It also concluded that those who eat at fast-food restaurants are more likely to load up on sugary beverages. Another recent study published in The Journal of Pediatrics determined that the average 19-year-old American girl now drinks three times more soda and 25 percent less milk than she did as a child.

“Because milk provides an important source of calcium in the diets of children and adolescents, the decline in girls’ milk consumption at a time when bone mineral deposition may predispose to eventual osteoporosis is a major concern,” writes Dr. William Dietz, commenting on the findings as director of the division of nutrition and physical activity at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The heavier soda drinkers in the study also tended to weigh more.

If empty calories and endangered bone health aren’t reason enough to give it up, soda fans should consider their teeth. General Dentistry reports that both regular and diet soft drinks, especially light-colored drinks and canned iced tea, appear to “aggressively” erode tooth enamel. No matter how they are sweetened, the phosphoric acid in soda “approaches the level of battery acid,” confirms Kenton Ross, a spokesman for the Academy of Dentistry.

Even health care workers themselves are not immune to the effects of soda consumption. A Harvard School of Public Health study of more than 50,000 nurses published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that those who drank one or more servings of soda or fruit punch a day not only gained an extra 10 pounds, but also ran an 80 percent increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. “There is epidemiological work done in children as well as adults that links obesity and Type 2 diabetes with the consumption of sodas,” observes Dr. Sonia Caprio, a Yale University professor of pediatric endocrinology.

The beverage industry typically refutes the health implications of such research, admitting only to the risk of tooth decay. Yet a slight slowdown in soda sales since 2005, paired with Americans’ move toward healthier foods, has prompted soda makers to hedge their bets by offering bottled waters and juices as well as “light” and “fortified” carbonated drinks.

The most significant change came last year, when America’s major beverage makers agreed to halt nearly all soda sales in public schools. Thanks to collaboration between the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and the American Beverage Association, as of 2009, elementary and middle schools will sell only water, juice (with no added sweeteners), and fat-free and low-fat milk. High schools will sell only water, juice, sports drinks and diet sodas under the new plan.

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Source: by Susie Ruth

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