Sugary Soft Drinks: Everything You Need to Know

Regular consumption of sugary soft drinks promotes diabetes, in addition to other health problems that we're going to discuss. It's best to limit their consumption.
Sugary Soft Drinks: Everything You Need to Know
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 22 June, 2023

The consumption of sugary soft drinks is common in a large percentage of the population. However, these products are of very poor quality. They’re harmful to health and contribute to the development of chronic and complex diseases in the medium and long term.

Of particular concern is the amount of sugary sodas that children ingest and the early age at which these products begin to be introduced into the diet. They’re considered industrial ultra-processed products and contain substances that cause damage.

The effect of sugary sodas on health

According to a study published in the journal Nutrients, regular consumption of sugary soft drinks is capable of causing damage to metabolic and cardiovascular health. This is due, among other things, to the concentration of added sugars. These elements generate a higher glycemic peak than when ingested through solid foods.

The fact that the drink doesn’t contain any fiber is a differential factor when evaluating the impact of sugar on the body. After all, both the fiber and other nutrients present in food can delay gastric emptying and modulate the entry of glucose into the blood.

However, sugary sodas are made up of water, additives, and sugar. None of these elements is capable of slowing down the absorption of carbohydrates. For this reason, they pass quickly into the bloodstream, causing high pancreatic stress. This organ has to compensate for the imbalance through the release of insulin.

What happens is that repeated consumption of these products causes insulin resistance. Gradually, cells become less and less sensitive to the hormone, which is the prelude to type-2 diabetes. In fact, the intake of soft drinks and the risk of metabolic diseases are closely related, as stated by one study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology.

Likewise, high amounts of sugar are capable of influencing blood pressure values. In this way, arterial hypertension can be favored, which is an optimal setting for the development of more complex and serious cardiovascular diseases.

The effects at the gastrointestinal level

Keep in mind that the consumption of sugary soft drinks also has a negative effect on digestive health. On the one hand, the bubbles present in these products cause stomach and intestinal discomfort due to the accumulation of gas. In the case of people who have a tendency to experience colic, they’re contraindicated.

In addition, both sugar and sweeteners and other additives in soft drinks can induce negative changes in the intestinal microbiota. This is evidenced by a study published in the American Journal of Physiology. Both elements contribute to the loss of bacterial diversity.

It’s important to note that an alteration in the bacteria that inhabit the intestine can cause significant damage to the body. Not only are there problems related to the absorption of nutrients, but there’s also an increase in systemic inflammation.

To avoid situations of this caliber, it’s essential to watch your diet and habits. It’s essential to include fiber in the diet on a regular basis, as this is the energy substrate that bacteria need to survive.

A can of sugary soda.
The impact of sugary sodas is seen on blood glucose and blood pressure values.

The effects of sugary sodas on children

The presence of sugary soft drinks in children’s diets is worrisome. In the first place, during childhood, the dietary habits that will prevail in the future are established.

Second, these kinds of drinks are harmful during the first stages of life. This is indicated by an article published in the journal Primary Care Diabetes, where the consumption of these products is related to an increased risk of excess weight and obesity in children.

In addition, there’s some evidence that regular sugar intake could cause a certain degree of addiction, according to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. It’s important to limit the presence of this food in the diet, giving more importance to other types of complex carbohydrates that are absorbed more slowly.

Are juices better than sugary sodas?

There’s a belief that juices are good quality products when they’re made exclusively from the juice of the fruit. The truth is that, despite not containing added sugars, they’re not drinks that should be introduced into the daily diet. Their quality isn’t far from that of sugary soft drinks, as at a nutritional level, they’re quite similar.

Fruit is a fresh food recommended for health. It’s composed mostly of water, although it contains fructose, fiber, micronutrients, and phytonutrients. The sugar contained inside these products isn’t a concern, as the fiber delays its absorption.

However, the question changes when only fruit juice is used. In this case, all the fiber is wasted, so nothing will modulate the entry of glucose into the blood anymore. At the same time, a good part of the micronutrients also remain in the pulp or on the skin of the food. Even antioxidants are lost.

For this reason, for metabolic purposes, there’s no significant difference between fruit juice and sugary soft drinks. Both are capable of causing high stress at the pancreatic level. However, some studies show differences in regard to other parameters, such as uric acid in the blood.

However, it’s best to limit the consumption of both types of drinks, both in the diet of adults and that of young people. There’s nothing wrong with ingesting them on an occasional basis, but in no case should they be a constant.

Options to replace sugary sodas

When you’re in the habit of consuming sugary sodas in general, it can be difficult to eliminate such products from your diet. There are some strategies that are useful for the transition to water consumption. This way, the state of hydration is improved and the intake of large amounts of added sugars is avoided.

A good option is to substitute the soda for an infusion. It’s important that it doesn’t contain added sugars. Some of them aren’t recommended during pregnancy, breastfeeding, or if certain types of drugs are used, but they’re generally considered very safe.

In addition, they have several health benefits. This type of product often contains phytonutrients or phenolic compounds. These elements are capable of exerting an antioxidant action, neutralizing the formation of free radicals.

At the same time, some infusions have a carminative character. This means that they reduce gas production at the intestinal level, promoting digestion. They can be a great option to consume after a copious meal.

Either way, when including tea in your diet, keep in mind that this drink contains theine, an analog of caffeine. This alkaloid can interfere with sleep cycles. For this reason, its intake isn’t recommended after 6 in the afternoon.

What about sparkling water?

Many regular consumers of sugary sodas are used to bubbles. For this reason, they prefer sparkling water to infusions as a transition drink to mineral water. The truth is that this product can be included in the diet without experiencing negative consequences.

Now, it’s important to take into account two details. The first is that sparkling water should be consumed in moderation. The bubbles can cause gastric or stomach discomfort.

At the same time, it’s important to differentiate this product from soda. The latter contains sugar in its composition, so it’s for all intents and purposes, it’s a drink that’s very similar to sugary soft drinks. Its inclusion in the usual diet isn’t recommended.

Still, naturally carbonated water may have some use as a transitional drink. In addition, its consumption before meals causes an increase in the feeling of satiety, which generates a later intake of less volume.

An Asian woman drinking a glass of water.
The transition from sugary sodas to natural mineral water can be done with carbonated water.

Sodas with sweeteners are also harmful

We’ve talked about sugary soft drinks, but their diet or sugar-free versions are also considered counterproductive for the body. These stand out for a higher concentration of additives, such as artificial sweeteners. The safety of many of these items hasn’t been tested.

In the short term, we know that they have a negative impact on the microbiota, favoring the development of dysbiosis. It must be taken into account that a loss of biodiversity in the intestine is related to an increased risk of infection by pathogenic bacteria.

In addition, sugar-free or diet sodas give a false sense of health and security, so people tend to consume more. The fact that they don’t contain calories doesn’t mean that they’re not fattening.

Therefore, these types of products aren’t considered positive. They’re very similar to sugary soft drinks, so their substitution doesn’t produce any advantage.

Sugary soft drinks are very low-quality drinks

The consumption of sugary soft drinks is totally discouraged. They’re harmful to health in the medium term, although even more so when accompanied by alcoholic beverages.

It’s good to remember that the best element to ensure a good state of hydration is mineral water. At times, consuming whole milk can be a beneficial option. Also, sparkling water is a resource for specific moments.

  • Malik, V. S., & Hu, F. B. (2019). Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Cardiometabolic Health: An Update of the Evidence. Nutrients11(8), 1840.
  • Qin, P., Li, Q., Zhao, Y., Chen, Q., Sun, X., Liu, Y., Li, H., Wang, T., Chen, X., Zhou, Q., Guo, C., Zhang, D., Tian, G., Liu, D., Qie, R., Han, M., Huang, S., Wu, X., Li, Y., Feng, Y., … Zhang, M. (2020). Sugar and artificially sweetened beverages and risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and all-cause mortality: a dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. European journal of epidemiology35(7), 655–671.
  • Klingbeil, E., & de La Serre, C. B. (2018). Microbiota modulation by eating patterns and diet composition: impact on food intake. American journal of physiology. Regulatory, integrative and comparative physiology315(6), R1254–R1260.
  • Twarog, J. P., Peraj, E., Vaknin, O. S., Russo, A. T., Woo Baidal, J. A., & Sonneville, K. R. (2020). Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity in SNAP-eligible children and adolescents. Primary care diabetes14(2), 181–185.
  • DiNicolantonio, J. J., O’Keefe, J. H., & Wilson, W. L. (2018). Sugar addiction: is it real? A narrative review. British journal of sports medicine52(14), 910–913.
  • Büsing, F., Hägele, F. A., Nas, A., Döbert, L. V., Fricker, A., Dörner, E., Podlesny, D., Aschoff, J., Pöhnl, T., Schweiggert, R., Fricke, W. F., Carle, R., & Bosy-Westphal, A. (2019). High intake of orange juice and cola differently affects metabolic risk in healthy subjects. Clinical nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland)38(2), 812–819.

Este texto se ofrece únicamente con propósitos informativos y no reemplaza la consulta con un profesional. Ante dudas, consulta a tu especialista.