The Soft Drink Risk
By Susan Maltby
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0in 0pt">Study on teenage girls suggests soft drinks are bad for the bones

0in 0pt">Sticks and stones and soft drinks may break your bones, according to a recent study from Harvard School of Public Health.

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0in 0pt">Scientists found that active girls who drink carbonated beverages, especially cola, are five times more likely to have bone fractures than those who don’t drink soda. The study, “Teenaged Girls, Carbonated Beverage Consumption, and Bone Fractures,” reviewed the beverage habits, physical activity levels and history of bone fractures of 460 high school girls. The findings, published in the June 2000 issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, confirm a strong relationship between drinking cola and bone fractures among physically active young women.

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0in 0pt">Before you “obey your thirst,” experts say, consider your calcium intake. Women who reach for sodas instead of healthier beverages pay a high price for reducing their daily calcium intake. Scientists also suspect the phosphoric acid found in colas may contribute to weakened bones. Because women build 92 percent of their bone mass by age 18, a diet low in calcium and high in phosphoric acid more than quadruples your risk of fractures and osteoporosis later in life.

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0in 0pt">“Calcium is the most important mineral for your body, so you really have to make sure that you’re getting enough calcium in your body first,” says Ruth Frechman, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the California Dietetic Association. “Soda is empty calories,” she says.

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Nutrition experts estimate that most women are meeting only 60 percent of the required daily amount of calcium. Women who drink soda get less than 50 percent of the essential mineral per day. “Women ages 19 to 50 need 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day, which is equal to about 3 cups of milk,” explains Frechman. She says women should steer away from the sugar and empty calories of soda.

How Much is Too Much?

Expert involved in the recent study suggest that ingredients found in cola can hinder bone development, when cola is consumed in great quantities. “Phosphorus in sodas upsets the balance of calcium and phosphorus in the body,” says Joy Ahrens, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) director of Nutrition Education and Training for the Northeast Valley. She says when the chemical balance is off, the formation and maintenance of bones is affected, making bones more easily prone to fractures.


Ingredients in sodas are controversial at best, offering no health benefits whatsoever. In this “super-size” generation, a 7-11 Big Gulp packs 800 calories. When it comes to certain ingredients in soft drinks, less is better than more. Here’s a rundown of the main ingredients found in most soft drinks:


nt-weight: normal">• High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) occurs in low doses in nature. However, most sodas contain large amounts of fructose, which is difficult for the liver to metabolize. According to a recent report in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, fructose affects the appetite centers in the brain, upsets normal hormone regulation and causes overeating.

• Phosphoric acid is used primarily in the manufacture of fertilizers, detergents, and pharmaceuticals. In the steel industry, it is used to clean and rustproof products. Phosphoric acid provides a tart, acidic flavor in foods and beverages such as jams, cheese and beer.

• Caffeine is an addictive stimulant drug known to cause nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness, and rapid heartbeat. Caffeine can also aggravate pre-menstrual syndrome. Many doctors recommend that women with PMS avoid sugar and caffeine-containing beverages.

• Aspartame or saccharin is a sugar replacement used in diet colas. They contain fewer calories but often pack a lot more caffeine. For example, a 12-ounce can of Diet Coke has about 42 milligrams of caffeine. Diet Coke also contains seven more milligrams of caffeine than Coke Classic. A can of Pepsi One has about 18 more milligrams of caffeine than regular Pepsi, which contains 37 milligrams of caffeine.


The negative hype surrounding soft drinks is less than refreshing. But, there’s no need to completely give up your favorite can of pop just yet. “If you’re not watching your weight, and you’re getting enough calcium, then an occasional soda is fine,” says Frechman. “Drinking soda once in a while is okay,” the dietician explains. “The only thing that you have to worry about is the cavities from all the sugar.”


Before popping the top on another can of soda, consider other thirst-quenching beverages.


Healthy Alternatives

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-FAMILY: Verdana">When it comes to good health, the most important beverage to consume is water. The human body can’t function properly without this essential nutrient. Water contributes to better kidney function and helps the body eliminate toxins. Drinking water, according to experts, is the key to healthy skin and a clearer, more beautiful complexion. The National Institutes of Health also recommends water instead of soft drinks with sugar for people trying to control their weight.

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-FAMILY: Verdana">Everyone should drink at least eight to 12 cups of water daily, according to the American Dietetic Association. If you’re physically active, add one to three cups for each hour of activity. Today’s beverage market is flooded with various carbonated and non-carbonated water enhanced with tasty flavors, essential vitamins and minerals. If you’re still thirsty after you’ve met your body’s daily water requirement, experts agree that milk is the best alternative to soda.

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-FAMILY: Verdana">Frechman, who specializes in weight management, says that both milk and soymilk are the best sources of calcium to drink. Though few dispute the health benefits from drinking milk, consumers still reach for soft drinks. “Milk isn’t sexy,” says Ahrens. “But for women, milk is the best way to build and maintain bones,” she says. Ahrens recommends women also consider nonfat chocolate milk as another calcium source.

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-FAMILY: Verdana">As a busy mom, Ahrens understands how easy it can be for women to drink too much soda and not enough milk. “The main problem is that sodas are so much more accessible,” says Ahrens. The nutrition expert says sodas are an easy thirst quencher and energy fix for busy women. “You can get a pop at the vending machine,” says Ahrens. Cost is another issue that often makes it easier for cash-conscious women to choose soda instead of milk. “Soda is cheaper,” explains the dietician. “Milk is nearly four dollars a jug while you can get a liter of soda for less than a dollar.” However, pinching pennies today may cost debilitating bone loss tomorrow.


Juice is also a great substitute for soda. You can find a smorgasbord of flavors to choose from, Frechman says, “One hundred percent juice is a healthier choice than soda because of the Vitamin C and minerals that juice contains.” Like many soft drinks, juice provides a quick energy boost, and it’s caffeine-free. Juice is preferable to diet soda because it acts as a mild appetite suppressant. There are more benefits to choosing OJ over RC. Science has proven the benefits of cranberry juice in preventing and treating urinary tract infections. Cranberry juice lowers the pH of the bladder, and makes it uninviting for bacteria. Though most fruit juices are healthy alternatives for soda, you still need to get enough calcium.


“If moms are drinking milk and juice, then kids are more apt to make healthier choices,” says Frechman.




Limiting the amount of soda you drink is an easy way to begin a journey toward better nutrition. Here are a few places to find more information to help keep you and your family on the right path of improved total health:



Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, “Teenaged Girls, Carbonated Beverage Consumption, and Bone Fractures,” by Grace Wyshak, MD, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, 2000.

Homemade Root Beer, Soda, & Pop, by Stephen Edward Cresswell, Storey Books, 1998.

Soda Pop: From Miracle Medicine to Pop Culture, by Michael Karl Witzel, Gyvel Young-Witzel, Voyageur Press, 1998.



On the Web

Family Food – Provides information about the food guide pyramid. The site offers recipes, nutrition tips and menu plans specifically designed with parents, teachers and children in mind.


American Dietetic Association (ADA) – Provides reliable, objective food and nutrition information. Here you can find invaluable links, on-line tools, brochures and facts to help you make smart nutritional choices. Consumer Nutrition Information Line, 800-366-1655, provides recorded messages with timely, practical nutrition information.