Nothing beats an ice-cold soda on a hot day, right?
Soda has become such an easy option that we find ourselves reaching for it far more often than we should. When we run into a convenience store, there are coolers full of a wide variety of soda options. If we’re out shopping or traveling, there are usually a few vending machines around offering ice-cold bottles of it. Going to the movies makes it easy to buy a super-sized cup full of soda.
Sodas are beverages consisting of carbonated water, some type of sugar or sweetener, and either natural or artificial flavorings. Soft drinks also tend to be loaded with caffeine, which is another reason they become go-to drinks for many of us. We feel our energy lagging a bit and grab a can or bottle to get a boost to make it through the end of our day at work.
But research shows us that soda is a poor choice of beverage for us to drink. Yet it’s become such a staple of our culture that it’s almost inescapable!
The good news is there are ways you can cut soda out of your diet and replace it with much better alternatives. Before you know it, you’ll realize that you don’t even miss it, and your body will thank you.
Why Do We Crave Soda?
Our brains are wired in such a way that we can find ourselves craving foods and drinks that have high sugar content. It’s actually tied to our basic survival instincts, as a matter of fact. Our brains have a reward system for taking care of necessary survival functions such as eating and drinking. Our brain releases dopamine whenever we feed or hydrate, giving us a sense of pleasure.
We want to continue to feel good, so our brains will try and find more and more ways to trigger dopamine releases. It’s like completing a task or winning a game: You feel good about the success and want more of it.
The problem with the dopamine cycle is that it can become addictive. This is where soft drinks, and high-sugar foods like cake, can become risky for us. Taking high amounts of sugar into our bodies actually triggers greater dopamine releases, potentially creating a cycle of craving.
Is Soda Bad For You?
This question can be answered with just one word: YES!
Even beyond the potential cycle of craving dopamine that your body can fall into, the Centers for Disease Control and other health organizations have found several adverse effects of soft drinks. Sodas have been linked to obesity, poor dental health, and numerous chronic diseases.
Here are just a few of the reasons to cut sugary drinks out of your diet:
- They cause weight gain (obesity).
- They’re linked to type 2 diabetes, cancer, and heart and liver diseases.
- High amounts of sugar erode your teeth, leading to dental issues.
- They can cause skin conditions (acne) and skin aging.
- They cause energy spikes and crashes, upsetting your body’s rhythm.
- They have no nutritional value.
But what about diet sodas? They don’t have all the sugar, so they must be better for us, right?
Don’t be fooled by the nutritional info on the side of the can or bottle that shows zero calories and zero sugars. Diet sodas are not a healthier alternative! Some artificial sweeteners can be up to 600 times sweeter than sugar, which means they can have an even bigger effect on your dopamine levels.
Ways to Cut Soda Out of Your Diet
We can see why we need to remove soft drinks from our diet, but the how can be a challenge. With our brains wired to reward us with dopamine, stopping soda drinking can be as tough as a smoker quitting cigarettes. Fortunately, many of the same tactics that a smoker would use can also work for a soda drinker.
#1: Drink More Water
Substituting water for soda is obvious, but the reasons why might not be. Many times, the craving we feel for a soft drink might simply be that our body is thirsty. If you’re craving a soda, drink a glass of water and wait a few minutes. Odds are, you’ll find that the craving has passed because you were just thirsty, and the water has quenched it.
#2: Distract Yourself
Like a smoker wanting a cigarette and chewing gum to curb the craving, you can do the same thing with soda. You can also distract yourself from wanting a soft drink by getting up and moving around a bit.
#3: Avoid Getting Hungry
Hunger and thirst go hand-in-hand as parts of our inherent survival instincts. One of the ways to stave off feeling hungry is by drinking to give ourselves the feeling of being full. That can work in reverse to avoid soda. Having a light, healthy snack like fruit or yogurt can fill our bellies a bit and satisfy our cravings.
#4: Manage Your Stress
Stress has been found to increase cravings for food, especially in women. We’ve all heard of stress eating. Much like distracting ourselves to curb cravings, stress-relieving activities can help us greatly. Regular exercise, some yoga, or meditation can benefit our health and reduce our stress.
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Seven Healthy Alternatives to Soda
In a perfect world, drinking nothing but water would be the ultimate way to quench your thirst and avoid soda entirely. But can you drink too much water? You can, and you can actually find yourself overhydrating, a condition known as hyponatremia. Too much water can dilute the electrolyte levels in our bodies and thin our blood, having the same effects as drinking alcohol, among other problems.
So what should we drink instead of soda?
#1: Infused Water
Many flavored waters are out there, but many contain sugar or artificial sweeteners. A healthier choice is natural flavoring: Adding slices of your favorite fruits, veggies, and herbs — like lemons, oranges, watermelon, cucumber, mint, or limes — to a pitcher of ice-cold water can make for a refreshing and flavorful drink.
#2: Green Tea
Green tea can help reduce the risk of several types of cancer, heart disease, obesity, liver disease, and type 2 diabetes. The USDA notes that green tea is calorie-free and naturally high in antioxidants, and it’s available in many varieties. You can drink it iced or hot, giving you some options.
#3: Sparkling Water
If you want that fizzy sensation of soda without the downsides, then sparkling water is here for you! While some sparkling waters can be a little pricier, they offer the benefits of regular water with the bubbly sensation of soft drinks. You can infuse them with fruits and herbs just like you can with regular water, so add some mint and cucumber to have a refreshing soda alternative.
#4: Juices or Smoothies
Fruit juices can give you some of the sweetness that soda does, but you can’t go overboard with them. Even though fruit juice is a healthier choice, it can still be full of sugar, especially if you’re purchasing bottled juices.
Vegetable juice offers a quick, low-calorie way to get many of the benefits of veggies without all of the sugar found in fruit juices. However, vegetable juice can be high in sodium, so keep that in mind when going for a glass of it.
#5: A Cup of Coffee
Do you need a bit of a caffeine kick? Well, instead of soda, have a cup of joe! Research shows that drinking coffee in moderation can be a healthy part of your diet. Coffee drinkers may have a lower risk of heart disease, prostate cancer, and endometrial cancer, according to a review published in 2017 in BMJ.
Kombucha is another great way to satisfy your craving for carbonation while reducing sugar intake. Kombucha also offers many potential health benefits, thanks in part to the fermentation process used in making it, which produces probiotics. The fermentation process gives kombucha a mildly acidic flavor, similar to apple cider.
#7: Coconut Water
Unsweetened coconut water is a natural source of vitamins and minerals and contains electrolytes. It’s low in sugar but rich in potassium, magnesium, and sodium, making it a good drink to have during exercise, especially since it contains less sodium than sports drinks. Coconut water comes directly from the coconut fruit itself and is roughly 94 percent water, so it’s great for hydration.
Cut the Soda Out for Just 30 Days
Moving away from soda can be tough, but making a 30-day challenge out of it can get you there. Many people have taken a month off of soft drinks and posted their experiences online. While there are always some differences in results, the consensus was that the first couple of weeks were difficult, but by week four, they didn’t even miss soda.
At around two months, habits begin to become automatic, on average. Removing soda from your diet for thirty days gets you halfway there! You’ll feel better by making the change, and your body will thank you for it by feeling greater.
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