soda alternatives

Cutting sugar consumption with kid-friendly soft drink alternatives

Childhood obesity in America has more than tripled in the past 30 years; and with this weight gain comes serious immediate and long-term health concerns: increased risk of heart disease and stroke, higher cholesterol levels, higher blood pressure, increased risk of diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep issues, social repercussions, greater risk of osteoarthritis and even a greater likelihood of developing many types of cancer. Unfortunately, 1/3 of U.S. children are now overweight or obese.

While we often think of the types and amount of food we eat, our physical activity level and genetics as the most important weight factors, many studies suggest that there is "an association between obesity and consumption of soft drinks."

American consumption of soft drinks has increased by 500% over the past 50 years. Sodas (and to a lesser extent, sweetened juices and sports drinks) now account for 48% of the added sugars the average American child's diet.

Note 1: in addition to the calories that come directly from drinking soda, afterwards, rapidly falling blood sugar levels have been shown to stimulate appetite. So, we tend to eat more. This also may contribute to weight gain.

Note 2: Seventy-five percent of soft drinks consumed are the sweetened type. Diet sodas may be no better at helping a person to control their weight, however, since 1) "Increasing evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners do not activate the food reward pathways in the same fashion as natural sweeteners" so we end up with sugar cravings. 2) some people feel hungrier after consuming artificial sweeteners and 3) casual dieters may feel that drinking diet sodas gives freedom to go ahead and order dessert or eat richer foods.)

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Note 3: With New York City proposing a ban on restaurant sale of soft drinks larger than 16 ounces, Coca-Cola took a different view of the correlation between sodas and obesity. Read Coke's response, in an interview with USA Today.

Question: Since the average 12 ounce soft drink contains around 160 calories, how far would an a 154-pound person have to walk (at moderate intensity) to burn off the calories from just a single soft drink?

Select: 10 minutes 30 minutes 45 minutes

Walking a half-hour may not seem like a lot to burn off the calories consumed in a soda but 1) many children are drinking more than a single 12 ounce soda per day (1/3 of American 14-year old boys consume at least 36 ounces of soft drinks, as an example) and 2) that half hour walk burned only the calories consumed in the 12 ounce soft drink. We still have to use up all the other calories consumed during the day or your body will store these extra calories as fat and you will gain weight. (To get an idea of how many calories you're consuming in burgers, fries, toast with butter, juices and other foods, visit

So, if we are taking in more calories than our bodies need each day and sweetened soft drinks may be partially to blame, what are the alternatives?

Tips for cutting down on soft drink consumption

Question: How many calories does a person consume drinking a 12 ounce glass of water flavored with a slice of lemon?

Select: 0 30 90

Regular water is, perhaps, the best alternative to sodas. There is no better thirst-quencher. Plus, water is healthy, free and contains no calories. Keep a bottle of chilled water with you and sip often, including with meals.

Other suggestions for reducing consumption of soft drinks include:

  • Add a splash of flavor to water by adding a slice of lemon, cucumber or lime.
  • Dilute juices with seltzer (or regular) water. Just like regular water, "fizzy" water has no calories.
  • Drink skim milk. While a glass of whole milk contains 150 calories, that same glass of skim milk has only 86 calories. And, instead of empty calories, milk provides protein, calcium and vitamins needed by a child's growing body.
  • Don't switch from sodas to fruit-flavored punch, sweetened tea or lemonade, sports drinks, energy drinks or gourmet coffees. All of these contain added sugar, may be high in caffeine, and almost always are low in nutrition.
  • If you're going to drink soft drinks, drink smaller amounts and less often. If you're craving a soda, make it a single-size serving rather than "super-size." And, obviously, cutting down on the frequency helps, as well.
  • Make healthy choices convenient. Do not keep soft drinks in your home. And keep sugar in the cupboard rather than on the counter or table.
  • Drink unsweetened iced or herbal tea -- just don't add sweeteners like honey or sugar.
  • Even though 100% fruit or vegetables have naturally occurring sugars, they at least contain nutrients. Just be sure to drink them sparingly.
  • Read labels. Choose the beverage option with the lowest sugar and be aware that a single bottle often contains several servings per container.

Sources (Accessed June 9, 2012)

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Join the conversations:
Showing comment(s)
October 9, 2013
I just happened to be reading the August 2013 National Geographic article about our sugar addiction and was surprised that, for all the attention given to sugar in our diet, the US isn't even close to being the world's top consumer. The article says we eat an average of 77 lbs per person per year but Brazil eats a whopping 122 lbs! I wonder where the Brazilians stand in terms of obesity?
Francis at
August 7, 2013

I agree, Phil -- it is hard to believe that Brazil could possibly consuming more than 1 1/2 times as much sugar as we are. To answer your question about where Brazil stands compared to us in terms of obesity, I found a country by country ranking from the CIA, of all places. The US comes in at #6 with an obesity rate of 34% (which is far lower than American Samoa, which tops the list with 75% of their population considered to be obese). Brazil is not listed in the top 10.

But sugar intake is just one factor in the obesity epidemic. Other contributors to obesity include:
sedentary lifestyle: driving rather than walking, sitting for hours in front of a computer or TV, etc.
environmental factors: work schedules, super sized food portions, limited access to healthy foods, etc.
genetics and lifestyle habits developed as children
medical conditions such as hormone problems
medications: certain medications can slow metabolism, increase appetite, or cause water retention.
emotional factors: such as eating when stressed or bored.
stopping smoking: nicotine increases metabolism... plus, foods just taste and smell better after quitting.
age: a decrease in energy and metabolism, menopause, etc. can contribute to weight gain.
sleep deprivation: people who sleep less are more likely to reach for carbs and sugars for energy. sleep also affects our hormones.

August 26, 2014
Here is a 2008 list of the obesity rate in all countries (USA is 18th on this list, with 33% of adults being obese. Brazil comes in at 102nd with 18.8% of their adults being obese):
August 6, 2013
Your article mentions the obesity risk and how soft drinks are a big contributor of added sugar in our diet. But you may also want to mention how horrible soft drinks are for our dental health.
Francis at
August 7, 2013
Thank you for sharing that, Jackson. You are absolutely correct that the carbonation, sugar and acids in soft drinks weakens tooth enamel and promotes bacteria growth that can lead to tooth decay. Here is a flyer from the Mississippi Dept. of Health that offers suggestions on how to prevent this:,2809,151,299.html
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