Data from Cancer Research UK says that British teens are drinking almost a bathtub full of sugary drinks each year. Addicted to all things fizzy? Here are the facts you need to know
The news that fizzy drinks are bad for us doesn’t come as a shock. However, as with most of our other guilty pleasures (read: cookies, chocolate and Maccie Ds), it doesn’t stop us still reaching for them. But as a new study reveals drinking just one sugar-laden fizzy drink a day could decrease fertility in both sexes, the health risks associated with drinking soda are once again in the spotlight.
“Doctors are in no doubt that the biggest danger from many of the popular fizzy drinks doesn’t come from the hidden additives, flavourings or colourings but from sugar,” says GP and Get The Gloss Expert Dr Anita Sturnham . “Sugar has been dominating the headlines, with experts claiming it to be highly toxic to the body. Research suggests that sugar could be one of the leading causes of illness and death in the UK, with claims that it should be regulated in the same way as alcohol and tobacco.”
According to nutritional therapist Henrietta Norton , “Liquids can seem like mindless eating - we wouldn’t dream about eating two or three cream cakes at once however, the average can of seemingly ‘healthy’ sounding fizzy drinks with romantic sounding names such as Cloudy Lemonade, contain around 6-12 teaspoons of sugar in them - we’d never put that on top of our cereal for example, but when it comes to liquids, we can mindlessly take in these sugar-laden calories.”
Thanks to Jamie Oliver and his campaign to slap a sugar tax on food and drink and a call from Cancer Research UK calling for the same, the impact that the sweet stuff is having on the population's health and rising obesity levels has made the discussion on sugar all the more topical.
We asked Dr Sturnham, Henrietta Norton, Nathalie Schyllert - Director of Bodywear and Operations at Bodyism and cosmetic dentist Dr Joe Oliver to delve deeper into the topic and set the record straight about fizzy drinks once and for all. Here are 15 reasons why fizzy drinks are indeed the devil's brew...
1. Our mental health
The effects of fizzy drinks go beyond just our waistlines, affecting both mental health and cognitive functions. “The over-consumption of sugar has been linked to depression, poor memory formation and learning disorders in studies,” says Dr Sturnham. “Scientists have now also identified a possible increased risk of dementia.”
2. Our teeth
It’s no big secret that the high-sugar content of some of our favourite soft drinks can seriously impact our teeth, However, once you hear the details about how damaging they really can be, you’ll never want to touch them again. According to Dr Joe Oliver, “Dental erosion causes the enamel (which acts as a protective layer to your tooth) to wear away, and will lead to pain and sensitivity."
“Each regular can of cola contains eight teaspoons of sugar which can increase our risks of tooth and gum disease,” says Dr Sturnham. “A study in the journal General Dentistry, found that cola is 10 times as corrosive as fruit juice in the first three minutes of drinking. The researchers took slices of freshly extracted teeth and immersed them in 20 soft drinks. Teeth dunked for 48 hours in cola and lemonade lost more than 5% of their weight.” Talk about extreme weight loss. “Another study found that drinking four cans of fizzy drink a day increased the risk of tooth erosion by 252%,” she adds.
Don’t be suckered in by their diet counterparts either - they’re just as evil, but just sneakier - which makes them even worse in our books. “Diet fizzy drinks contain sweeteners but still contain chemicals that can rot the teeth,” explains Dr Sturnham. “One of the chief culprits for dental disease in these drinks is citric acid, which gives tangy drinks their kick. Citric acid can make the drink nearly as corrosive as battery acid when it comes to teeth.” Yes you heard that correctly, BATTERY ACID.
3. Our skin
Fact: fizzy drinks will make you looker older faster*. “They cause premature ageing as the sugar damages our skin cells and collagen bonds,” says Dr Sturnham.
*Puts down can of coke and reaches for the nearest face mask*
4. Our hearts
When it comes to matters of the heart, the consequences of fizzy drinks are worse than what any break up could do. Mostly due to, yes you’ve guessed it, their sugar content. “Sugar causes a build-up of bad fats that block our arteries which can lead to heart attacks and strokes,” says Dr Sturnham.
Fizzy drinks and obesity are lifelong buds and it's one friendship that needs to come to a swift end, fast. “Too much sugar can lead to a build-up of fat around our bellies increasing our risk of getting type 2 diabetes,” explains Dr Sturnham. She adds, “Research indicates that there may also be an association between artificially sweetened beverages too. A French study, published in 2013, even indicated that the risk of type 2 diabetes may even be higher for those that regularly consume diet soft drinks than people that consume sugary versions. There has been a lot of debate about the safety of sweeteners with some health campaigners taking the view that they can lead to a range of problems ranging from depression to digestive disorders and the aforementioned type 2 diabetes.”
She adds, “We also have no long-term safety about the potential health risks from consuming the newer sweeteners such as stevia. My advice is to choose the healthier drink alternatives, such as low fat milk and water. If you are going to drink squashes make sure you dilute them well.”
6. Diet cola deceit
“There’s a growing body of research about the use of non-calorie artificial sweeteners and how they can lead to the development of glucose intolerance,” says Henrietta Norton. “There’s a response from the body that’s acts similarly to how it reacts to sugar, which still causes us to be vulnerable to diabetes.”
7. Our livers
“Excess sugar can increase a build-up of fat around our livers, leading to fatty liver disease and result in liver failure,” warns Dr Sturnham.
8. Our kidneys
“Sugar can be damaging to our kidneys, resulting in high blood pressure and reduced kidney function,” explains Dr Sturnham. Not only can this impact on our body’s ability to rid itself of toxins, but also on its production of important hormones too.
9. Our bones
“Several studies have shown that females who regularly drink carbonated drinks are three times more likely to have thinning of their bones (osteopenia),” says Dr Sturnham. “One theory is that phosphoric acid used as a preservative in some fizzy drinks reduces the absorption of calcium into the bones. Other specialists say that you would have to drink very large quantities of fizzy drinks to see this effect but do agree that it would be better to swap fizzy drinks for healthier options such as low fat milk, water, herbal teas and low sugar fruit juice.”
10. Growing addiction
Coca-Cola addict? You’re not alone. And there’s evidence to show that it isn’t entirely your fault. “The cane and beet sugar used in cola and other fizzy drinks is used up quickly by the body, which soon experiences a rapid drop in energy, leading to cravings for more sugar. The sugar rush also stimulates the pleasure receptors in our brains to release a chemical called dopamine which makes us feel good. We then crave more of this ‘feel good’ feeling and often turn to more of the same and this can become an addictive pattern of behaviour, particularly in children.” We told you they were evil...
11. The chaos of caffeine
Often fizzy drinks are seen as a friendlier, more accessible alternative to our lunchtime lull cups of coffee however, the after-effects of caffeine in any form shouldn't be overlooked. “Most doctors and dieticians advise keeping caffeine to a minimum, with a maximum daily intake of 400mg per day,” says Dr Sturnham. “Too much caffeine can lead to palpitations, high blood pressure, dizzy spells, shakes, headaches and dehydration (it acts as a diuretic).”
12. Kids' health
Kids + sugar = one stressful household and hyperactivity can be one by-product of fizzy drinks that most parents could quite gladly do without. “There is much controversy as to whether consumption of fizzy drinks can lead to hyperactivity in children,” says Dr Sturnham. “One study at the University of Surrey found that tartrazine, a colouring known as E102 and phosphates or E338 can increase muscle activity in children, leading to hyperactivity. The British Dietetic Association say hyperactivity can be caused by a number of different reasons including behavioural problems. There is no strong evidence alone that fizzy drinks will make your child hyperactive but it is certainly sensible to focus on making their diets as healthy as possible, to eliminate this factor.”
13. Mixer mayhem
Think your favourite fizzy drink mixer is your fast-track ticket to a second wind on a night out? Think again, in the long-term, you’ll wish you’d never bought it. According to Nathalie Schyllert, “Fizzy drinks are frequently consumed with alcohol…something else to avoid if you’re serious about reaching your fitness goals. Mixing spirits with fizzy drinks like cola gives you a calorie double-whammy.”
14. The butterfly effect
The body is a finely balanced entity where even the slightest change, although small to begin with, can cause ripples affecting a multitude of different functions. “An increase in sugar encourages disruption to our blood sugar levels which the body works so hard to keep constant,” explains Henrietta Norton. “So when there’s a sudden ingestion of a high amount of sugar (like from a can of fizzy drink), it can cause a sudden release of insulin. This is the panic mechanism of the body to get glucose out of the blood stream and into its storage cells. If you’re doing this regularly, you end up putting a lot of disruption and stress on the pancreas to release insulin which eventually becomes overworked and causes it to eventually not produce enough which can in the long-term lead to diabetes.”
15. Faux fullness
And finally, do you initially feel full after a can of the fizzy stuff? Don’t believe the hunger hype, as it’s all LIES! “Because of the bubbles, they feel quite thirst-quenching to begin with and you feel satiated,” says Henrietta Norton. “However, what they actually do is disrupt blood glucose levels and make us hungrier sooner.”
Still want some fizz? Here's how to do it
Stick to the basics: “I recommend using natural sparkling water with a squeeze of half a lemon or lime,” says Henrietta Norton. “Also try crushing mint and lemon together and adding into natural sparkling water afterwards or using a small amount of proper apple juice or cranberry juice (not made from concentrate) and topping it up with sparkling water if you’re drinking from a tall glass instead.” She also recommends trying Wild Nutrition GTF Chromium supplement, £17.50, which supports blood glucose levels and can help reduce cravings for sweet foods and drinks.
Save your teeth: Dr Joe Oliver advises, “Limit the amount of fizzy drinks you consume, and when you do have one, drink it through a straw which will help to reduce the acid attack on your teeth.” He adds, “Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste to keep them healthy and visit your dentist regularly for a hygiene appointment. If you are looking for a treat, then chewing sugar-free gum will produce more saliva and can help prevent decay and erosion.”
Cheat your craving: “If you’ve got a craving for something sweet, try mixing a scoop of Bodyism’s Body Brilliance , £49.95, with your favourite milk,” suggests Nathalie Schyllert. “Not only does it taste like chocolate and has no added sugar, but it contains super greens and powerful antioxidants to help your body flush out toxins and fight free radicals."