Is soda a risk worth choosing?

  • Soda is a dietary choice that has more downside than upside.

    Soda is a dietary choice that has more downside than upside.

By Patrick Massey, M.D.
Updated 11/3/2019 11:12 AM

It can be said, with confidence, that certain foods, in excess, increase the risk of illness and even death.

As an example, a diet rich in bad fats is a strong prognosticator for heart disease, diabetes, obesity and death.


A recent study strongly indicates that the regular consumption of sugary and artificially sweetened soda also increases the risk of death. These results are alarming since Americans drink a lot of soda.

Over the past decade consumption of soda in the U.S. has declined by about 25 percent. That is good but the sad reality is that even with a 25 percent reduction, the average American still consumes almost 40 gallons of soda per year.

Now many Americans do not drink any soda (I have one every two-three years) so that means some people are consuming much more than 40 gallons per year.

Even with our "declining" soda consumption, we still drink more soda than most of the world. A typical 20-ounce soda contains 16 teaspoons of sugar and 250 calories. It takes 45 minutes of speed walking to burn off the calories and it exceeds the daily recommended amount of sugar. Sweetened and artificially sweetened sodas are big business exceeding $200 billion dollars per year.

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There is ample research to suggest that regular intake of sweetened and artificially sweetened sodas increases the risk of a number of illnesses including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, bowel issues, etc.

However, there are other studies claiming that these associations with illnesses are weak or nonexistent. The problem is that there are not enough people in these studies to make definitive claims. One recent study, however, does have enough people to make conclusive statements about the relationship between soda consumption and illness.

The 2019 study titled "Association Between Soft Drink Consumption and Mortality in 10 European Countries" was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association -- Internal Medicine. The study followed over 450,000 Europeans comparing their consumption of sweetened and artificially sweetened sodas and mortality.

The results were sobering. Drinking two sodas per day resulted in significantly higher overall mortality compared to drinking less than one per month. Artificially sweetened soda was associated with significantly more deaths from circulatory illnesses. Sodas sweetened with sugars substantially increased the risk of death from digestive illnesses.


When soda was first introduced to the American public, it was a treat at the soda fountain and rarely experienced by the general population. Now, for some people, it is a substantial part of their daily liquid intake.

For decades, artificially sweetened sodas have been touted by some nutritionists as an important part of the diabetic diet.

There are many healthy alternatives to soda.

I recommend that my patients drink more water (regular and flavored, if it's unsweetened), tea (iced and hot) and even coffee in moderate amounts.

Soda is a dietary choice that has more downside than upside.

• Dr. Patrick Massey, M.D., Ph.D., is medical director of complementary and alternative medicine at Alexian Brothers Hospital Network, and president of ALT-MED Medical and Physical Therapy, 1544 Nerge Road, Elk Grove Village.

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