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Soda is better as a treat than a staple.

Soda has long enjoyed a special place in the American diet. It finds its way into mixed drinks and ice cream floats, and it’s a popular partner to a piping-hot slice of pizza. Depending on where you are, finding a bottle of soda may even be easier than finding a bottle of water.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 49% of adults in the U.S. consume one sugary drink, like soda or lemonade, every day. And 63% of young people drink at least one beverage with added sugar daily.

It’s time to step away from the soda. “Despite being so readily available, soda is far from healthy,” explains Dr. Eddie Rodriguez-Lopez, a primary care physician at Geisinger Medical Clinic Lock Haven. “In fact, soda and other sugary soft drinks may be one of the leading causes of obesity. While having an occasional soda isn’t going to have lasting long-term effects, having one or more sugary drinks every day will.”

The fact is, your body changes for the better when you stop drinking soda — Dr. Rodriguez-Lopez reveals the remarkable health benefits.

You’ll be more hydrated

Thirsty? Drinking water is the way to go (so you won’t have to go as much).

“Soda contains caffeine, which is a diuretic,” says Dr. Rodriguez-Lopez. “As a result, drinking soda will actually dehydrate you. This can strain your body to find sources of water — which puts a good deal of stress on your kidneys. If you need something to quench your thirst and rehydrate, water is always the best choice. If you prefer something with more flavor, try adding fresh fruit to your water.”

Your teeth will thank you

Switching away from soda will give you something to smile about: No more sugar and acid eating away at your tooth enamel. The average soda has a PH of 2.5 — making it about as acidic as lemon juice.

“Enamel is the first line of defense for your teeth — and once the enamel wears off, your teeth become susceptible to decay and eventually tooth death,” says Dr. Rodriguez-Lopez. “You can’t get enamel back once it’s lost, so you need to preserve the enamel you have.”

Cutting out soda spares your enamel, which protects your teeth from decay. Talk to your dentist if you notice your teeth feel very sensitive.

You’ll cut your sugar and calorie intake

Sugar and calories are like smoke and fire — if there’s a lot of one, there’s probably a lot of the other.

So when you decide not to drink that 12-ounce can of soda, you’ve saved yourself about 140 calories and 32 grams of sugar. That one can holds a whopping 7 grams more than the American Heart Association’s recommended daily intake of 25 grams of sugar for women, and just 4 grams under the recommended daily intake of 36 grams for men.

And by lowering your sugar and calorie intake, you lower your risk for weight gain and other metabolic issues like high blood pressure — metabolic changes that can make it harder to burn fat and lose weight.

“Cutting soda out of your diet not only lowers your risk for weight gain, but may help you actually lose weight as well,” says Dr. Rodriguez-Lopez.

You’ll lower your diabetes risk

Drinking one to two sugary drinks every day increases your risk of Type 2 diabetes by about 25%, so saying no to soda is a good way to lower that risk.

This is because one of the largest risk factors for diabetes is your intake of added sugars.

“Soda often contains sugar in the form of fructose and sucrose, which are two common ‘hidden’ variations of sugar,” says Dr. Rodriguez-Lopez. “All forms of added sugar are linked to diabetes when consumed in high quantities. Excessive intake of sugar causes stress on the pancreas, which can lead to insulin resistance, and in turn, diabetes.”

Your risk for heart disease drops

Here’s an unexpected perk of putting down the pop: You lower your risk for heart disease. One study concluded that soda drinkers may have up to a 20% higher risk of coronary heart disease.

And quitting diet soda is heart-smart, too — one study showed that 61% of people who drank diet soda daily had a higher incidence of heart disease and stroke.

Especially if you’re already at risk for heart disease, stopping the soda habit is a good way to stay healthy.

Tips for success

The benefits of eliminating soda are obvious. So how to cut back? “Starting small can make the transition easier,” says Dr. Rodriguez-Lopez.

“Try to have water with you at all times, adding fresh fruit for flavor and variety if you like,” he says. “If you find yourself craving carbonation, consider switching to a fizzy alternative, like sugar-free sparkling water or seltzer.” You can even add a splash of fruit juice to combat sugar cravings.

If you’re having symptoms of caffeine withdrawal throughout the day, like headaches or feeling lethargic, try sipping green tea or unsweetened iced tea with fresh lemon.

By taking small steps, you’ll set yourself up for long-term success — and your body will enjoy all the benefits.

Next steps:

Annual health screenings are your key to better health. Here’s why.
Meet Eddie Rodriguez-Lopez, MD
Learn about primary care at Geisinger