Whether you call it soda, pop, or coke, soft drinks have become ubiquitous refreshments, providing consumers with a cool, sweet beverage on the hottest days. Unfortunately, the modern soft drink is packed with sugar or artificial sweeteners while providing very little in terms of actual nutrition. What’s worse, sodas may actually be harming your gut health. Read on to learn more about how consuming soft drinks affects your gut health and general wellbeing.
Soft Drinks and You
In general, soft drinks are not good for your health, and regular consumption of sugary sodas may actually do you harm.
The excessive high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) found in sodas is easily converted to fat or glycogen (stored carbs). Long term fat accumulation can overload the liver. In one study, researchers found that overconsumption of sugar and fructose led to an alarming 27% increase in liver fat. Serious health problems such as fatty liver and other concerns has been associated with HFCS.
Zero Nutritional Value
Soda provides absolutely zero nutritional value. It contains no essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals, or dietary fiber. The one thing it does provide is excessive amounts of sugar, often in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, and the calories associated with that.
The sugar used in soft drinks is generally comprised of large amounts of fructose. While it tastes sweet and satisfying, fructose has not been shown to lower the hunger hormone or otherwise make you feel full the way glucose does. However, you still get the calories from the fructose. In other words, you get the additional calories of soda on top of the calories of your meal. One study found that participants who drank soda consumed 17 percent more in daily total calories than those who did not drink soda.
Bad for Your Teeth
Along with sugar, most sodas contain acidic components, including carbonic acid and phosphoric acid. These acids contribute to a more acidic environment in your mouth, which eventually wears away your teeth and makes them vulnerable to decay. Research has found that dental erosion occurs when the environment is acidic with a pH lower than 4.0. In, researchers purchased 379 beverages throughout Birmingham, Alabama, and assessed their pH. An overwhelming 93 percent of the beverages (354 of 379) had a pH lower than 4.0 while just 7 percent had a pH of 4.0 or higher. This suggests that a significant amount of commercially available beverages are potentially erosive to the teeth.
Sugar also provides an easy source of food for the bacteria inhabiting your mouth, allowing that bacteria to grow and thrive. Combined with the acids, this can result in some serious problems over time for your dental health.
High Sugar Interferes with Gut Bacteria
An important component in the human gut is a bacterial species known as Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron, which is typically found in those who eat fiber-rich diets and may help to confer health benefits by turning dietary fiber into helpful compounds.
- theta produces a protein referred to as Roc, or regulator of colonization. This protein essentially allows B. theta to take up residence in your gut. Without it, B. theta would get flushed out of the gut. In a study on mice, researchers found that the bacteria stopped producing Roc in the presence of fructose and glucose. This effect may also extend to other important gut microbes, resulting in an imbalance in gut microflora.
Diet Soft Drinks and Gut Health
Those with qualms about soft drinks often switch to diet sodas in hopes of drinking a “healthier” alternative. Diet soft drinks forgo sugar for artificial sweeteners, which may help to cut the overall caloric intake, but artificial sweeteners may present their own problems, especially when it comes to gut health.
Your gut is home to a diverse, complex system of bacteria and other microorganisms that may provide a variety of health benefits. They may:
- Help to protect your gut from infection
- Contribute to the production of essential vitamins and neurotransmitters
- Help to regulate immune functions
Dysbiosis, which refers to an imbalance of bacteria, has been linked to a variety of gut problems and digestive issues.
In a comprehensive study published in Nature, researchers found that consumption of commonly consumed non-caloric artificial sweeteners may result in glucose intolerance and metabolic issues by altering intestinal microbiota. The study also suggests that artificial sweeteners can contribute to dysbiosis and interfere with regular gut bacteria function. Interestingly, mice fed sugar water in this same study showed no changes to their gut bacteria.
A study from researchers of Singapore’s Nanyang Technology University and Israel’s Ben-Guiron University and Volcani Center tested the effects of six common artificial sweeteners on E. coli, a prominent bacterial strain found in the human gut. The study found that all six sweeteners damaged the E. coli in some way, from direct DNA damage to cell wall or protein damage. While the gut comprises a complex system of bacteria beyond just E. coli, this study is still worth noting.
The Effect of Artificial Sweeteners
Along with its potential effect on your gut bacteria, artificial sweeteners have been linked to a variety of other health problems.
Studies on artificial sweeteners and weight gain have come with mixed reviews. Where some observational studies suggest an increase in BMI, others suggest that artificial sweeteners may promote a modest decrease in BMI. A more comprehensive meta-study could not identify any actual benefits of using artificial sweetener in relation to weight.
More research is necessary to fully understand the effects of soda and artificially sweetened diet sodas on the gut, but most current studies are clear: soft drinks are not great for your health. To give your gut a break, try to reduce your soda consumption and include more whole foods and fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet.