What’s the buzz about soda and our health?

For me, as a dietitian and health counselor who has worked with children for many years, carbonated drinks rank almost as high as tobacco products and alcohol in their potential to cause great harm, especially at a young age.

Dear Timi, the controversy over a new “soda tax” – an extra tax on soft drinks – has me thinking about my own kids’ soda consumption. I’ve never paid much attention to the issue before, but now I wonder if I do them a disfavor by letting them have as many soft drinks as they want. Am I worrying too much?

Dear Reader,

No, in fact you should be worried about giving your kids sodas. The whole tax issue aside, I believe that sodas, especially when consumed in large quantities, are indeed harmful for our kids’ health – and not just because they contain lots of empty calories from sugar. Unfortunately, it is only the issue of weight gain in connection with sodas that drives the current discussion. What bothers me as much, however, is the fact that almost all sodas are carbonated.

Carbonated drinks have high levels of phosphoric acid (phosphate) and carbonic acid. Elevated acidic levels can cause an imbalance of calcium (an alkaline mineral) in our blood stream. Under normal circumstances, our body’s natural mechanism maintains a steady ratio of calcium to phosphate in the blood (also known as “acid base balance” or “blood ph”) with the help of a healthy diet.

However, if we overindulge in foods and beverages that throw off the delicate acid-alkaline balance, the body has to struggle hard to get it back by adding calcium. The more phosphate from carbonated drinks is ingested, the more calcium is needed. If that calcium is not supplied in sufficient quantities from food products, such as milk, cheese, fish, dark green leafy vegetables and the like, calcium that is already stored in the body will be “pulled” from bone mass and teeth, thereby damaging their density. Severe osteoporosis and premature loss of teeth may result in later years.

For growing kids, an acid-alkaline imbalance is especially harmful, because potentially serious damage to their bone structure is being done at a critical time when they build up their bone mass that has to last for a lifetime. The consumption of large amounts of carbonated drinks can jeopardize this process. And once the damage is done, it cannot be reversed.

For me, as a dietitian and health counselor who has worked with children for many years, carbonated drinks rank almost as high as tobacco products and alcohol in their potential to cause great harm, especially at a young age.

In absence of any government regulations to speak of, we consumers have to educate ourselves about the facts of carbonated drinks, so we can make better informed choices for ourselves and on behalf of our children.

Timi Gustafson is the author of “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun.”


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