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Obesity in a can: Sugary sodas are nutritionally indefensible
Dietitian can't find anything nice to say about soda

 Diet drinks may be better than sugary, high-calorie regular sodas, but water and tea are still healthier choices.
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Date published: 11/15/2009

IT'S HARD to find anything nice to say about soda.

Every can of regular soda we drink is linked to a 60 percent higher risk of obesity and 67 percent higher rate of diabetes.

Stats like these, from the Journal of the American Medical Association and Diabetes Care, have sparked debate about sugary beverages.

Some people consider soda their one indulgence, drinking a can or more each day. And some figure it's no worse--and maybe better--than eating chocolate, ice cream or other sweets.

But at least chocolate has some antioxidants. And ice cream, while fatty and sugary, has a little bit of protein and a lower glycemic index than soda. Plus, ice cream is usually consumed in smaller quantities. Most folks don't consume a quart at a time.

But lots of convenience stores sell 32-ounce servings of sweetened drinks, such as soda, lemonade, punch or energy drinks. And most of these sweetened drinks have few vitamins, minerals or fiber.

On the whole, I pride myself on being relaxed as dietitians go. I encourage people to take a moderate approach and to enjoy all kinds of foods. And it's true that a little soda won't kill you. It's not toxic.

But it's hard to defend sweetened beverages, at least in modern super-size portions. A 24-ounce soda has about 300 calories from liquid sugar and about 80 grams of carbohydrate, or as much as five slices of white bread.

But while eating that much white bread might make you feel stuffed, the average person is still hungry after guzzling a 24-ounce beverage. That's where a problem can come in--when a person keeps eating too many calories.

The beverage industry disagrees: "There is little evidence from epidemiological studies that sugar-sweetened drinks are more likely than any other source of calories to lead to obesity," according to the American Beverage Association's Web site.

Translation: Too much of anything can make you fat. While I agree that excess calories from any food or drink can cause weight gain, as a dietitian I have known many people who go overboard more with sweetened beverages than with solid foods.


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Although calorie-free diet soda does not cause high blood sugar or make you overweight, it may not be an entirely benign alternative. Women who drank two or more servings daily of artificially sweetened soda had worse kidney function, according to a researcher's analysis of 3,000 women in the national Nurses Health Study. More research needs to be done to confirm this finding.

--Jennifer Motl

Jennifer Motl is a registered dietitian. Formerly of Fredericksburg, she now lives in Wisconsin.