Is Soda Bad for You?

Kicking the soda habit and sharing some bobotie

The other night I decided I wanted to make something different for dinner. I have been habitually raiding my freezer and pantry to see what I have on hand and then creating a meal. It’s not often that I find a recipe on Pinterest and realize I have everything I need to make it. Typically I’m missing one or more ingredients and either running to the store, researching substitutes, or abandoning the recipe altogether. So I was thrilled when I found everything needed to make bobotie, a crowd pleasing South African dish.

I made this once before and we had a bottle of wine but we were disappointed in the pairing. This time was a weeknight and we were not interested in having wine with dinner. Yes, that does happen on occasion in our house! Instead I had my go-to drink which is water with lemon, and Dinner Table Doctor had a Spindrift.

My Struggle with a Soda Addiction

For many, many years my go-to drink would have been a Diet Coke. I drank several every day. Since I was drinking diet, I didn’t give it a second thought. As a teenager, I drank regular Pepsi, so I felt like I was being pretty healthy switching to diet soda.

As more and more studies came out regarding soda, even without DTD telling me so, I began to realize that soda (or pop, as I call it) probably was not a good thing to be drinking on a regular basis. I tried to quit. I failed. I tried again. I failed. I quit while I was pregnant with my first child, motivated by all the scary reading material telling me caffeine was bad for my unborn baby. The very day I had that baby, after 12 hours of horrible labor and finally an emergency c-section, my first request was that DTD bring me a Diet Coke from McDonald’s. The origin was key, because there was nothing better than a fountain pop with that big, fat straw. I didn’t even like the initial taste, but I kept drinking and eventually loved it again.

For several years I kept trying to quit. Two more pregnancies and a few successful Lenten campaigns got me so close, but I always caved eventually. How could I have chips without Diet Coke? Or pasta? or pizza? or a burger? or scrambled eggs? You can see I had a real problem.

Finally I was able to quit, mostly because of aging and in retrospect, perhaps my gallbladder. I was having tummy issues on a regular basis. The carbonation and sugar was not doing me any favors. I was in danger of becoming one of those ladies who passes gas in the middle of a crowded store with a pained look from trying desperately to hold it in, or worse yet, becoming one of those people who just farts without reservation, perhaps not even hearing how loud it is! This was my final motivation. After all, my hearing isn’t what it used to be and neither is my muscle strength down there…

Why Soda is Bad for You

DTD tells his patients to think of soda as an ice cream sundae. In his eyes, soda is the same thing. Once in a great while is OK; every day or even every now and then is not OK. A Burger King ice cream sundae has 40g of sugar. A can of Coke has 39g of sugar. According to a Gallup pole, of the Americans who drink soda, 2.6 glasses a day is the average amount. If someone told you they were eating 2 or 3 ice cream sundaes a day, you would think they were crazy and probably expect them to gain weight and develop diabetes. You would consider that amount of ice cream excessive and dangerous. Soda is the same.

Many of DTD’s patients say things like “I can’t understand why I’m not losing weight! I only have one or two sodas a day.” He compares that to saying “Why can’t I lose weight when I only eat one or two ice cream sundaes a day?! Why do I have diabetes?” When you say it like that, you can see the problem clearly. Unfortunately many people are like post-pregnancy me and love soda from a restaurant or gas station fountain machine, which is much larger than a can of pop and loaded with sugar. Indulging in even one of those a day is truly injuring your body, like consuming multiple ice cream sundaes.

DTD reminds patients that sugar is a huge problem when it comes to weight gain. If someone has only 1200 calories a day, but 200 of it is liquid sugar, they are still going to have a problem losing weight and may even gain weight. “I practically starve myself and can’t lose weight. I only have one or two sodas a day and all salads!” Again, substitute the words “soda” with “ice cream sundae” and you see the problem.

DTD says sugar isn’t the only reason he tells patients not to drink soda. There are several other reasons to avoid it:

  • Soda doesn’t make you feel full for long. Even with the carbonation, soda doesn’t stimulate satiation like when you’re digesting food. That soda will be added calories on top of whatever you’re eating. At least when you eat an ice cream sundae, you feel full. Sodas aren’t going to do the same for you.
  • Humans weren’t designed to digest liquid sugar. It makes us hungrier and the huge, sudden spike of sugar makes us gain weight and could lead to chronic kidney disease, kidney stones, and osteoporosis.
  • Soda has excessive amounts of fructose, which can only be metabolized by your liver. Too much fructose will turn into fat and could lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
  • Soda causes tooth decay.
  • Soda consumption has been linked to type 2 diabetes.
  • Carbonation, sugar, and caffeine cause bloating and gas.
  • Soda has zero nutritional value.

DTD recommends soda consumption as a VERY RARE treat, much like an ice cream sundae. He considers soda worse than a piece of cake or small bowl of ice cream. It’s another level up on the scale of things that are bad for you and should only be consumed on extremely special occasions, if ever. Nutritionists all agree that soda is not good for you. Why consume something that doesn’t help your body in any way and definitely does hurt you?

What About Diet Soda?

Diet soda also has no nutritional value, and some studies link artificial sweeteners to the same issues as actual sugar. Recent studies have shown that pretty quickly your body recognizes artificial sweetener as actual sugar, so you may be saving on calories but you’re still putting yourself at increased risk for the above conditions.

Is Soda Addictive?

Many studies show that sugar and caffeine are addictive. Lifestyle habits are also addictive. I definitely had an addiction to soda in all three of these areas. I craved the sweet taste and depended on the caffeine. I was also in a habit of drinking Diet Coke with certain foods. When I tried to cut back, I equated my daily drinks with treating myself after a hard day or rewarding myself after a good day. There was always an excuse! For me, changing these habits was more difficult than giving up the sugar addiction.

Addiction comes from the pleasure center of your brain. Sugar releases opioids and dopamine in our bodies. You literally feel a pleasurable high and would like to repeat the feeling. Humans were not meant to have sugar in such concentrated amounts. Just like with other drugs, your body build up tolerance and you crave more.

I Did It, and so Can YOU!

It took years for me to give up soda, and there are times when I have one, but those times are few and far between. I finally prefer the taste of lemon water. My first step was to simply stop buying soda for our home. If the kids wanted soda for friends or we were having a party, I bought very little cola (my downfall) and more Sprite, Mountain Dew, root beer or orange sodas, all of which I could easily resist. The only time I would have Diet Coke was in a restaurant.

The caffeine addiction was not an issue, because I drink coffee. I simply added another cup of coffee to my morning routine. The sugar addiction was a different story. I found myself having a piece of candy every time I had a glass of water! It just tasted better that way. (Go figure!) I decided I better heavily doctor up my water to make it more exciting, so I would flavor it with lemon, lime, or orange juice. After about 4 months, I finally got used to water and actually gave up the carbonation. In a strange way, COVID has helped solidify my resolve, because I avoided restaurants for so long, and we weren’t entertaining, so I didn’t need to buy soda for guests. I have now been to restaurants, even McDonald’s, and ordered water instead of a Diet Coke. I have also resisted drinking it when it was in our home over the holidays. I’m so proud of myself!

Giving Up Soda, Even Diet Soda, May Help You Lose Weight

I guess this is a thing, but it wasn’t for me. Dammit. On the plus side, I’m not gassy and bloated…unless I have too much dairy

Alternatives to Soda

There are still moments when I’m feeling sassy and would like something more exciting than water, even flavored water. Nowadays there are so many soda alternatives to choose from. There’s flavored, carbonated water such as La Croix and Spindrift. Plain carbonated water like San Pellegrino can be infused with all sorts of flavors for something extra special. You can also buy a soda machine and make your own flavored, carbonated drinks.

Of course, you must be careful with the amount of sugar or sugar substitute you are consuming in these alternatives. Read labels carefully and know exactly what you are putting into your body. Gatorade, energy drinks, sweetened iced tea and even fruit juice have loads of sugar and are equally bad for you. DTD says the best thing to drink is water. Black coffee and tea, unsweetened, is also fine.

That’s why I’m such a fan of lemon water. I don’t want the carbonation, but I want more than water. When I squeeze a lemon or lime or even throw in some mint leaves, I know exactly what I’m putting into my body. When you get into the habit of drinking water, then once in a blue moon, you can have that “ice cream sundae” drink with no guilt.

An Easy, Delicious, South African Meal

My Lovely South African Bobotie using a recipe from Eats by the Beach

Bobotie reminds me of a childhood favorite you may remember: the impossible cheeseburger pie! This Bisquick recipe was a staple in our house growing up. We loved it. If you are unfamiliar with this delectable crowd pleaser, it’s basically all the ingredients of a cheeseburger in a Bisquick casserole instead of a bun. YUM!

I look at Bobotie as the grown up, more exotic, and better tasting version of my childhood delight. While there are several variations of the recipe, the one I found on Pinterest originated from a site called eatsbythebeach.com and is easy and yummy. It is a combination of sweet and savory. There’s a bit of milk involved, so those of you who are lactose intolerant should take a few lactase enzymes when eating your bobotie. Ground beef, onions, garlic, raisins, bread and eggs combine with several spices to make this a comfort food with a twist. You can find the actual recipe with all the instructions you need by clicking on the photo above.

Speaking of Pinterest, you can find and follow Dinner Table Doctor there, as well as on Facebook and Instagram. You can also subscribe to my blog at no cost to you, but with so much to gain!

What’s your favorite substitute for soda pop? Please share so I can add it to my list of “drinks-when-I’m-feeling-sassy-but-don’t-want-alcohol.”

***For more information on sugar addiction, check out this article on Healthline. It includes some great tips for “breaking up with sugar.”

  1. Looks like a good recipe to try this winter. Perhaps after a snow storm?!! That diet pop won’t be a problem either. Although, I do wax nostalgic when I think of those bright pink TAB cans! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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