Most of us know soda isn’t good for us. Maybe you have even tried to kick the soda habit before without luck.
If so you are not alone. Millions of Americans continue to choose to drink it every day. In fact, the CDC found in their National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) that 50% of Americans are consuming some sort of sugary beverage on any given day! (Note: Their definition of sugar beverages included fruit drinks, sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, and sweetened bottled waters. It did NOT include diet drinks, 100% fruit juice, sweetened teas, or flavored milks.)
Perhaps you aren’t a daily soda drinker and have decided that just having 2-3 sodas per week isn’t that bad. But do you actually realize JUST how much sugar is in soda?
How Much Sugar is Actually in Soda
There are approximately 39 grams of sugar in just one can of Coca Cola. But what does this really mean? Let’s break it down. One teaspoon of sugar is equal to 4.2 grams (it is often rounded to 4 grams.) Therefore, there are approximately 9.25 teaspoons of sugar in one can of Coca Cola. That’s over 1/8 of the can!
A 20 oz bottle of Coca Cola has 65 grams of sugar. This is nearly 15.5 teaspoons which is nearly 1/3 cup of sugar!
Why I Don’t Drink Diet Soda: The “Skinny” on Artificial Sweeteners
But you may be saying, “I don’t have to worry about that because I drink diet.” Personally, I try to stick to whole foods as much as possible and this does not include highly processed artificial sweeteners. I used to use stevia on occasion, but these days I try to limit that as well. Let me explain why.
Our bodies were designed to naturally regulate food intake and in turn regulate our weight. However, many psychological and physiological factors can throw this relationship off. According to some studies, including this one conducted at Purdue University (my alma mater, Hail Purdue!), artificial sweeteners confuse the body’s natural ability to detect sweetness and therefore regulate how much we should consume. When you substitute real sugar for artificial sweeteners, your body loses it’s ability to gauge caloric intake. This disrupts our intuitive eating process, which tells us when to stop. Therefore, artificial sweeteners could cause you to crave more sweets.
Look for a more in-depth post coming soon on artificial sweeteners.
How to Kick the Soda Habit for Good
It’s never easy to change our behaviors or kick habits. If it were, 50% of Americans probably wouldn’t be drinking soda despite being fully aware of the negative health consequences of sugar.
So where do we go from here? How do we change a habit? A few years back I read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. In it he describes what he calls the habit loop. It goes something like this. Habits are compromised of 3 steps: cue, routine, and reward. Therefore, you need to direct the habit you are trying to change.
Cues are the sights, sounds, smells, and other sensory data in your environment, as well as temporal and spatial elements (e.g., the time of day or a room in your house) that influence your thoughts and behaviors. Perhaps a certain restaurant or even food (i.e. pizza or cheeseburgers) is providing you with a cue or signal to want soda. Marketing experts in the food and restaurant industry are masters at using these cues in order to get you to “upgrade your order” or “make it a combo”.
Are there emotional triggers that cause you to crave the soda? Most of us are aware that stress can send us running to the vending machine, but sometimes even positive emotions can lead us to overdo it. Be careful that you don’t make a habit of drinking sugary drinks at celebrations or special occasions, as this will lead you to associate the drink with happiness.
Once you have figured out the cues that are driving your soda habit, move on to the routines. The routine involves how you get the soda. Are you a daily soda drinker? Is it just during mealtimes or as an afternoon pick-me-up. Even if you don’t drink soda daily consider the days you do choose to drink it. WHY are you choosing it? Do you order it without thinking at a restaurant? Or perhaps you find yourself heading to the vending machine at work on your break. Or maybe it’s even a quick walk to your fridge.
The routine is the part of the feedback loop that you need to change in order to kick any habit, soda included! You should plan this out ahead of time so that you are prepared when the cue occurs. This will allow you to establish a healthier habit.
Rewards are what reinforce the routine. In the case of soda, perhaps you enjoy that fizzy carbonation as it hits your tongue. Or the ice cold beverage feels refreshing to you in a moment of stress. The reward may be physiological, such as the increase in heart rate from the caffeine that makes you feel more alert or the sudden release of dopamine from the sugar that makes you feel good.
Applying the Habit Loop to your Soda Habit
Sugary beverages have a lot of built in reward mechanisms, but that doesn’t mean you can’t replace the habit with a healthier alternative. Below are some examples of how you can apply the habit loop to your soda (or sugary beverage) habit.
- If it’s the fizz and carbonation you miss, replace your soda habit with seltzer water such as La Croix . However, keep in mind this suggestion may take some time if you are a daily soda drinker and addicted to the sugar in the soda. Seltzer water is flavored rather than sweetened, so you may not like it on the first try.
- If you are drinking soda for a caffeine pick-me-up, try a healthier alternative such as green tea.
- Try fruit-infused water or tea. You get a little sweetness from the fruit without any additional sugar.
Think about the context when choosing alternatives to break your soda habit. Whether you like your beverages in an ice cold can or out of a glass bottle, there is a healthy option free of sugar and artificial sweeteners sitting on a shelf somewhere at your local grocery store that can provide a very similar experience. It may not taste exactly the same, but if they share enough qualities your brain will quickly adapt to a new way of quenching your thirst. And of course, your main drink of choice should always be good old water. ?