Soft Drinks Okay

Flavored, carbonated drinks have been around for about two hundred years. And their popularity continues to grow—overtaking more nutritious beverages among some age groups.

The term "soft drink" originally was coined to distinguish these beverages from "hard" liquor. Yet a hundred years ago, consumers asked for "pop," named for the sound made by popping open the bottle cap. Today, "soft drink"—or "soda" in some parts of the United States—refers to a beverage made with carbonated water and usually flavoring ingredients.

What's in a soft drink? Whether they're regular or diet varieties, soft drinks contain water: about 90 percent for regular soft drinks and about 99 percent for diet soft drinks. Carbon dioxide, added just before sealing the bottle or can, gives the fizz. Regular soft drinks are sweetened with sugar, perhaps high-fructose corn syrup and/or sugar; diet drinks, with saccharin, aspartame, and other alternative sweeteners. See chapter 5 for more about sugar and alternative sweeteners. Additional flavor comes from artificial and natural flavors. Acids such as citric acid and phosphoric acid give a tart taste and act as preservatives. Coloring may be added. Some caffeine may be added to enhance the flavor, while other ingredients may add consistency.

As soft drink consumption goes up, the nutritional concerns do, too:

  • Soft drinks can take the place of more nutritious beverages such as calcium-rich milk. Except for water and for carbohydrates in the form of sugars, soft drinks don't supply significant amounts of nutrients. A 12-ounce can of regular cola, for example, supplies water and about 150 calories (from almost 10 teaspoons of sugar), but little else. A 20-ounce bottle or cup has 250 calories! A diet soft drink is a source of water and has almost no calories.
  • Added sugars, especially in drinks, are linked to higher calorie intake. That, in turn, may contribute to the growing problem of overweight and obesity. Consuming less added sugars, especially from drinks, may help prevent weight gain and may aid weight loss.
  • Soft drinks fortified with antioxidants have hit the market, too. Be wary. For the potential benefits, fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods are much more effective sources. See "Antioxidant Vitamins: A Closer Look" in chapter 4.
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