By Taylor Ferreira
Did you know that 48% of Americans drink soda every day? That’s forty-four gallons of soda per year. Soda is cheap to produce, and millions of dollars are spent on its advertising and distribution, making it available anywhere, and at any time. So why, with the modern progression towards health and decreasing obesity, is this sugary beverage still one of the most commonly consumed drinks?
One can of soda typically ranges between 30 and 50 grams of sugar. That’s about 10 teaspoons. The typical adult is recommended to consume a minimum of 25 grams of processed sugar a day. By drinking sixteen ounces of soda, they will have already exceeded their sugar amount by one hundred percent. So what’s the problem? What does all of this sugar actually do in the body?
Sugar intake in excess has negative effects on the brain, the skin, the pancreas, your teeth, and even your mood. Most importantly, too much sugar determines how your body undergoes digestion, and its consumption can determine how much fat is stored and how much is broken down. This comes from how sugar affects the hormones leptin and insulin.
Leptin is produced by fat cells, and its release is the body’s way of knowing when it no longer needs to eat. It’s generally called the “satiation hormone” because it indicates the brain when the stomach is full, or when there are enough calories in storage. When the body senses leptin, it tells the brain, “Yay! We are not starving!,” and it responds by upping your metabolism and lowering your appetite. Insulin is the hormone that tells your cells when glucose is present, indicating them to open their “doors” in order to allow sugar molecules to enter and break down into a form of energy the cell can use.
Processed sugar is a mixture of two sugar molecules: glucose and fructose. Glucose is great; it’s the molecule that provides the energy for all of your body’s cells. Fructose however can only be processed in the liver. The liver can only metabolize so much, and once it reaches its capacity, the sugar is converted into fat that will either enter the bloodstream or remain in the liver. This, in excess, can cause fatty liver disease and cardiovascular problems. Now with all this fat precipitated in the liver, the pancreas has to begin producing more insulin just so the liver can function properly. These high levels of insulin are now blocking the cells from responding to leptin–the hormone telling the body when to stop eating–and the body has now entered into a vicious cycle of thinking it’s starving while gaining weight at the same.
Too much sugar in itself has negative effects–even fruit sugars should be consumed in moderation–but soda takes it to the next level. It isn’t your average table sugar that makes it so sweet; it’s high-fructose corn syrup. The very culprit for leptin resistance.
We aren’t even finished. Sugar is addictive. The brain sees it as a reward. It triggers the brain to release a flood of dopamine, much like abusive drugs. Naturally, the brain keeps track of things that activate this pleasure-inducing chemical, and wants to repeat them. This is why so many Americans drink pop every day, despite all of the movements away from hyper-stimulating junk foods.
To add to this, sodas like Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, and many root beers have caffeine. Caffeine has its own addictive properties, and furthers the drastic rise and fall of energy levels that the sugar brings. This fall in blood sugar and coupled with a caffeine crash can lead to big cravings for bad foods, or more soda drinking.
As you can see, no matter which way you turn it, drinking soda and consuming products high in processed sugar leads to a cycle very difficult to escape. And we didn’t even get into the effects of caramel color and vibrant dies. Now this doesn’t mean you have to completely cut away sugary foods for the rest of your life. Moderation is essential in being able to maintain a healthy lifestyle–but, so is awareness.