Some hard facts about soft drinks

soft-drinksOver the past few weeks we looked at the importance of maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and also at different ways of doing so. One of the lists of specific suggestions that I shared with you contained a recommendation that is so important that it actually deserves to be treated in much more depth. That suggestion is: Stay away from sugary soft drinks! There are few things in the North American diet that contributes so directly to the current obesity epidemic, and also to the emotional and behavioral problems associated with elevated blood sugar levels, as the seemingly innocent looking glasses of sugar infused sodas that most people knock back, without thinking twice about its potential impact on the body and the brain. 

The first, rather obvious, statement to make is that soft drinks contain sugar. Wait, let’s rephrase that, they contain a LOT of sugar. So much, in fact, that soda’s definitely deserve their description as ‘liquid candy’. The average 12oz can of non-diet soda have 40 grams of sugar in it. This translates into 10 teaspoons! This is just for a standard can, think for a moment how much sugar one of the ‘supersized’ glasses at your favorite restaurant must contain…and then add up all the ‘free refills’.

The calorific impact of sweetened drinks on the North American diet is so significant that the US Government identifies it as being responsible for 10% of the total calorific intake of the US population. This figure represents a seismic shift in the national diet. In 1950 Americans drank four times as much milk as soft drinks. By 2000 that ratio was exactly reversed! Is it any wonder that obesity rates more than doubled over the same period?

Is it really fair to point to sweetened drinks as one of the main culprits when it comes to diet related health problems, including the extreme moods swings associated with sugar rushes? The answer is an emphatic yes! I have already alluded to the first reason why this is the case: Sweetened soft drinks contain so much sugar that they can easily tip your daily calorie intake over the edge. For example, a single extra-large drink of the kind sold in most fast food outlets contains enough calories to supply in a quarter of an adult women’s daily energy needs.

The problem (lots of sugar) is compounded by the way in which the body responds to a massive injection of energy in liquid form. Human appetite is controlled by a complicated mix of hormones. Some of them have the job to let you know that your stomach is full while others (including a hormone named ghrelin) controls the hunger reflex as a way of letting you know that it is time to eat again. Eating ‘solid’ food causes the level of ghrelin to drop for a time, therefore suppressing the hunger reflex. ‘Liquid’ energy simply does not have the same effect on ghrelin levels. This means that soft drinks tend to add massive amounts of calories to someone’s diet without necessarily making that person feel full or satisfied. It is therefore quite possible to drink a large soda and then follow it with a large hamburger (that contains about the same amount of calories). However, many people will struggle to ingest the same amount of energy in ‘solid’ form by eating two large hamburgers in a row.

The sugar in sweetened drinks not only adds massive amounts of energy to the diet, it also triggers intense appetite cycles. This is because the calories come in the form of concentrated sugars that are rapidly absorbed into the blood stream, leading to a significant blood sugar spike. In non-diabetic people the body would normally respond to such a spike by releasing massive amounts of insulin in order to bring down the blood sugar levels. This release of insulin can often be so large that it will take the blood sugar level below what it was in the first place. This causes the classic responses to low blood sugar to kick in with the body releasing ghrelin and other hormones to stimulate the hunger reflex, causing us to eat even more! This effect explains why eating a huge meal with soft drinks on the side can leave you feeling so deflated and hungry after a very short period.


Avoiding dramatic peaks and troughs in blood sugar levels should be one of the top priorities for anyone who has to deal with the effects of ADD/ADHD. This is because low blood sugar levels will almost inevitably lead to the brain (as the top energy consumer in the body) functioning well below par. When you consider that some of the most dramatic blood sugar spikes are caused by massive amounts of sugar that were drunk as part of soft drinks, it therefore makes perfect sense to consider eliminating such drinks from your diet altogether. Doing so could be an important step on the way back to equilibrium and will, as a significant side-benefit, do wonders for your waistline at the same time!