A soft drink a day keeps your heart doctor in business

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Most Indian have a highly developed sweet tooth. No surprise that sweets are a big part of every small festivity in our culture. These desi-ghee-laden sweets are high on sugar and fat content. Mom-n-pop generation is mostly incorrigible unless there’s a big health related red-flag. But this post is not about the festive bingers but the young generation which has grown quite fond of the ‘thanda’ drinks over the years.

Over the past few years, consumption of sugary soft drinks has increased manifolds in Indian cities. Long summers really don’t leave much of a choice but to incline toward having something thanda. When mercury is soaring sky-high with 45 degrees the bubbly advertisements seem even more attractive. Though this industry has had several of its own controversies including the infamous pesticide one.

A recent American study (with an Indian co-author) conducted over a period of 22 years has highlighted how taking a small quantity of extra sugar on a daily basis can have long-term detrimental affect on your heart. They’re talking about ‘harmless’ soft drinks which include regular soda, fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks and sugar-sweetened water. Scientists found that men who drank a 12-ounce (roughly a 300 ml bottle) sugary beverage a day had a 20 percent higher risk of heart disease compared to men who didn’t take any such drinks. Compared to non-drinkers, those who consumed sugary beverages daily had higher triglyceride and CRP and lower HDL (good cholesterol) levels, which could increase heart-attack risk without being accompanied by obesity.


Now, a 300 ml is not a lot of cold drink. And there are many amongst us who are guilty of a little carbonated indulgence during a 10 hour day at work. These findings are notable because relatively modest consumption of sugary beverages – just one drink per day is being associated with increased risk of heart disease, and that too by as much as 20 percent.

You should ask, how much sugar is in one can of soda? One soda per day adds 150 calories every day. 150 calories x 365 days equals 54,750 extra calories each year. And these are not fat or sodium, just sugar. Do you know that you need to run two miles to burn off a can of coke?

Tempted to switch to water yet? No? Read on.

You should also consider what happens when a sugary cola drink enters your body-

1. In the first 10 minutes, 10 teaspoons of sugar hit your system (which is also 100% of your recommended daily intake.) You don’t immediately vomit from the overwhelming sweetness because phosphoric acid cuts the flavor allowing you to keep it down.

2. In 20 minutes, your blood sugar level spikes up, causing an insulin burst. Your liver responds to this by turning any sugar it can get its hands on into fat. And there’s plenty of that at this particular moment.

3. In 40 minutes, Caffeine absorption is complete. Your pupils dilate, your blood pressure rises, as a response your livers dumps more sugar into your bloodstream. The adenosine receptors in your brain are now blocked preventing drowsiness.

Your body ups your dopamine production stimulating the pleasure centers of your brain. This effect of cola drinks is physically the same as drugs heroin, hence the addiction.

The Other View

Soft drink manufacturers argue that when it comes to risk for heart disease, there is nothing unique about the calories from added sugars, or sugar-sweetened beverages for that matter. The major risk factors for heart disease are: high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, being overweight, being physically inactive, unhealthy diet and stress. They maintain that soft drinks shouldn’t be made the only culprit and this study presents a flawed story.

But to a health expert this study holds water because heart disease and diabetes are lifestyle diseases. You don’t become a heart patient overnight. They’re a result of bad lifestyle choices made over a long period of your life, sometimes without even realising. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a bottle of soft drink or a small packet of fried potato chips. Anything consumed in small proportions on a daily basis will have large cumulative effect, positive or negative.

Some nutrition experts believe that though this study affirms an idea about sugary drinks and their harmful effects on health, we shouldn’t discount the fact that people who drink more soda are apt to eat less well overall. Too much added sugar in the diet is likely a ‘marker’ of lower overall diet quality. Attempting to blame or pinpoint any one cause for disease risk or overweight, fails to recognize that overall lifestyle is the key to health.

All these findings, no matter how big an eye-opener, still don’t appeal to an average city dweller. In modern times, seems like, every thing that is convenient carries a health risk with it. You have to be really alert to dodge these. Or, the average day is so stress-filled that you think that you deserve these little indulgences to stay sane. Most such studies don’t give a solution but just highlight the problem.

So what can you do?

1. Most processed food and drinks today are manufactured to appeal to your taste buds. You wouldn’t believe how much these companies spend to come up with the taste that’ll keep you hooked and come back wanting more. Such foods and drinks should be considered a treat for special occasions and not suitable for daily consumptions. Indulge less. As a rule of thumb, anything processed will have something that your body wouldn’t agree with over long-term.

2. If you’re thirsty, drink water. Water’s not enough and you need something more? Then, drink more water. When it’s hot and you want a cold drink, you body just needs to replenish water. You don’t need to add extra sugar in your body unnecessarily. Simply replacing sugar sweetened drinks with diet drinks is not recommended by experts either. Reason, diet soda can crave taste buds to crave sweets – leading to high sugar intake.

While many risk factors are beyond our control, there are things we can do – including not smoking, maintaining an appropriate body weight and being physically active – to help mitigate risk for heart disease.

Written by Dr Shelly D'souza >>

Dr. Shelly is a lifestyle trainer, dietician and nutritionist based in Pune. She loves to help people live healthy and stress free.

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Indian Exponent: A soft drink a day keeps your heart doctor in business
A soft drink a day keeps your heart doctor in business
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