Colas have a lot of calories and sugar without a lot of nutrients. They can cause you to pack on pounds quickly, putting you at risk for obesity and chronic disease. In addition to the calories and sugar, sodas -- particularly dark-colored sodas -- contain chemicals and acid that give them their distinct taste and color. These chemicals can also take a toll on your health. Unfortunately, diet colas aren't the answer because they contain those same acids and chemicals as regular colas. For better health, gradually cut back on your cola consumption by replacing your daily soda fix with healthier alternatives.
Health Risks of Fructose in Dark Soda
Non-diet colas contain the sweetener fructose -- which is part of high-fructose corn sweetener -- which your liver breaks down and stores as fat. The chemicals in colas that give them their dark color and the artificial sweeteners in diet colas enhance fat storage even more. As fat accumulates, you're at risk for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which might eventually progress to cirrhosis, a potentially serious disease that involves liver scarring. The more fructose you consume, the greater your chance of developing this condition, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Hepatology. Out of 2,500 adults, those who drank more than one sugary beverage such as cola per day were 55 percent more likely to suffer from fatty liver disease compared to those who did not.
Fructose consumption also contributes to obesity, putting you at risk for a host of problems, including heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. If you're thinking about switching to diet soda, think again. A study published in 2009 in Diabetes Care showed adults who drank at least one diet soda a day had a higher waist circumference and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, compared to adults who abstained from diet soda.
Unhealthy Coloring in Dark Cola
You'll probably find the ingredient "caramel color" on your can of cola. While this sounds harmless, caramel color is a known cancer-causing agent in animals, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Caramel color does nothing for cola's taste; it simply gives cola its distinct, dark color. The state of California does not allow more than 4 micrograms of this ingredient because of its link to cancer. Regular cola drinkers, however, consume more than this on a daily basis, states a 2015 article published in PLOS One. An occasional cola isn't going to harm you, but if you drink dark colas on a regular basis, you may be increasing your chance of cancer over your lifetime.
Acid in Dark Cola
Phosphoric acid is added to colas to make them flavorful and prevent the growth of mold and bacteria. Phosphoric acid may contribute to osteoporosis in women, a condition characterized by weak, brittle bones that can easily break. A 2006 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that women over 60 who drank four or five colas a week had lower bone mineral density in their hips, which raises the risk of hip fractures. The results were the same whether the women drank regular cola, diet cola or decaffeinated cola. Drinking clear soda had no impact on other women's risk of osteoporosis.
Dark Soda and Oral Health
When you sip on a sweetened cola, the sugars in it join with bacteria in your mouth to form acid. This coupled with the acid added to colas attack and weaken the enamel of your teeth. These attacks start over again with every sip of soda. Once your enamel is damaged, cavities begin to form. Diet cola doesn't contain sugar, but it does contain acid that wears away your teeth. Using a straw to drink soda may help keep the acid and sugars away from your teeth. When you've finished your can of soda, rinse your mouth with water or brush your teeth.
Healthier Alternatives to Soda
Most of your body is made up of water, and you need to replenish it each day. Keep a water bottle with you throughout the day and drink water with every meal. Add a splash of lemon or lime, or steep watermelon or berries in it overnight for extra flavor.
Turn to coffee for a caffeine fix instead of soda. Coffee has been linked to lower rates of Parkinson's disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and depression, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Avoid extra calories by skipping cream and sugar in your coffee.
Green tea contains antioxidants that may cut your risk for cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Red and black teas have these compounds too, but in lesser amounts. A host of teas are available, so find one that suits your taste. Sip on it warm or brew homemade iced tea with a splash of fresh lemon juice. As with coffee, avoid adding sugar to your tea.
Milk and fruit juice are two other alternatives to soda. Both contain vitamins and minerals that are good for your health. The calcium in milk has even been linked to weight loss. Juice is higher in calories and sugar than fresh fruit, so opt for 100 percent, no-sugar-added juice, and stick to one 4- to 6-ounce serving of juice per day.
- World Journal of Gastroenterology: Soft Drinks Consumption and Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
- Journal of Hepatology: Sugar-sweetened Beverage, Diet Soda, and Fatty Liver Disease in the Framingham Heart Study Cohorts
- Diabetes Care: Diet Soda Intake and Risk of Incident Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA).
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: Lab Tests Find Carcinogen in Regular and Diet Coke and Pepsi
- PLOS ONE: Caramel Color in Soft Drinks and Exposure to 4-Methylimidazole: A Quantitative Risk Assessment
- Frostburg University: Why is Phosphoric Acid in Soda Pop?
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Colas, but not other Carbonated Beverages, are Associated with Low Bone Mineral Density in Older Women
- Mississippi State Department of Public Health: Soft Drinks and Oral Health
- Harvard School of Public Health: Drink Up: Health Benefits of Coffee are Numerous
- Harvard Health Publications: Tea: A Cup of Good Health?