Are carbonated drinks bad for you?

If you can’t imagine a day without your favorite soda or sparkling water, listen up. Carbonated drinks have some side effects you may not know about.

Hardly a day goes by when I don’t reach for some kind of sparkling drink. Sparkling water, soda and other carbonated beverages are crisp, refreshing and perfect for an afternoon treat. Unfortunately, recent research suggests that the bubbles we crave can come with some side effects.

This is what happens to your body right after drinking a soda.

8 PHOTOSThese eight foods and drinks can contribute to cancerSee GalleryThese eight foods and drinks can contribute to cancer

1. Processed meat

The World Health Organization places processed meat in the same category as tobacco smoking and asbestos when it comes to carcinogenicity. Although the three groups are not considered equally dangerous, processed meat has been proven to cause colorectal cancer. Studies show that "every 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by about 18 [percent]," the U.N. agency notes.

Research has also found a connection between processed meat and stomach cancer, but the evidence is not conclusive. 

2. Salt-cured meat or fish

Salt-cured foods tend to have high levels of nitrates and nitrites, both of which react with amines and amides to form compounds that can lead to cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. 

Moreover, research shows that "the more people eat of these foods the greater their chance of developing stomach cancer," Dr. Stephanie Fay wrote for World Cancer Research Fund International. 

3. Pickled foods

Much like salt-cured food, pickled foods contain a strong amount of nitrate and nitrate. A 2012 survey published by the American Association for Cancer Research revealed a direct correlation between the consumption of pickled vegetables and gastric cancer. Those of East Asian descent are particularly vulnerable to the disease since their diet heavily consists of pickled foods, the study said.  

4. Grilled food

Grilling food over an open flame creates heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, two types of chemicals that can cause changes in the DNA, thereby increasing the risk of cancer, the National Cancer Institute points out. Researchers determined that high consumption of well-done, fried or barbecued meats led to increased risks of colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer. 

5. Microwave popcorn

Microwave popcorn contains a toxic compound called diacetyl, which can cause scarring of the tiny air sacs in the lungs and has been linked to lung cancer, Eitan Yefenof of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem told Reader’s Digest.

The health threat actually comes from the popcorn bags, which contain chemicals that are suspected to cause cancer, according to Healthline. Those chemicals can also be found in pizza boxes, sandwich wrappers and Teflon pans. 

6. Alcohol

Heavy consumption of alcohol increases the risk of developing cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, breast, colon and rectum, says the National Cancer Institute. The U.S. government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 defines "heavy alcohol drinking" as "having 4 or more drinks on any day or 8 or more drinks per week for women and 5 or more drinks for men in one sitting (typically in about 2 hours)." Those who drink should do so in moderation (one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men). 

7. Bagels

As mouth-watering as bagels are, they’re also a health risk, particularly for non-Hispanic whites. Bagels have a high glycemic index, which means that they can significantly raise blood sugar levels. Elevated blood sugar levels trigger the secretion of insulin, which, in turn, can influence the risk of lung cancer, according to a 2016 study published by the American Association for Cancer Research. 

8. Soda

Drinking carbonated beverages heavily can exacerbate the symptoms associated with cancer, such as gas, bloating, heartburn or reflux, according to Stacy Kennedy, a senior clinical nutritionist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. 

In addition, many soft drinks contain high fructose corn syrup, which can contribute to weight gain and obesity. Obesity itself has been linked to 13 different types of cancer, including breast, esophageal and endometrial cancers. 

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What are carbonated drinks?

Carbonated beverages include any drink that has bubbles and fizz from dissolved carbon dioxide. Drinks like soda, tonic water and even champagne all get those delightful bubbles. Flavored sparkling water is especially popular (looking at you, LaCroix), and several brands even offer hard seltzer!

Are carbonated drinks bad for you?

Well, it depends. We know the dangers of drinking soda because of its high levels of either sugar or artificial sweeteners. And if you find yourself needing that sweet drink every afternoon, it may even be contributing to a sugar addiction.

But what about those healthier-looking drinks? Many varieties of sparkling water have no calories or sweeteners, but still carry some side effects. Because of carbon dioxide, all carbonated beverages can contribute to gas and bloating. If you notice an upset stomach after drinking sparkling water, try cutting back and seeing how you feel.

Some carbonated waters may also make you feel hungrier. A small study found that drinking sparkling water can increase the “hunger hormone” ghrelin, causing you to reach for more snacks. On the other hand, another small study found that people who drank sparkling water felt fuller than those who only drank water. More research is needed to make a definitive conclusion.

What are the best non-carbonated drinks?

If you’re looking to cut back on your carbonated beverages each day, here are some fun options.

  • For an afternoon pick-me-up, reach for espresso or cold brew coffee. The best source of caffeine is coffee, and cold brew is a smooth, icy treatperfect for sipping.
  • Bored with plain water? Try infusing it with fruit and herbs for that crisp taste you crave without the bubbles.
  • Iced tea is another way to stay hydrated while adding some tasty flavor. Just be sure to pass on the sweet tea and try one with fresh fruit.

7 PHOTOS5 Great Reasons to Kick Your Diet Soda HabitSee Gallery5 Great Reasons to Kick Your Diet Soda Habit

Chances are, you already know that diet soda is too good to be true. With that sweet taste and zero calories, something’s gotta give. And chances are, it’s your waistline and your health. In fact, study after study shows that diet soda is likely failing you in its pounds-free promise and putting your health at risk at the same time. Find out what health conditions researchers have linked drinking diet soda with.

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Weight gain

Diet soda drinking correlates with both increased waist circumference and a heightened body mass index. What’s up? One possible explanation is that diet soda disrupts our ability to feel full. Scientists have found that, at least in rats, having something artificially sweetened before a meal leads to greater food consumption at chow time. In general, sweet tasting foods and drinks appear to increase our appetite.

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Higher sugar consumption

“The intense sweetness of these products primes the brain to want more of the regular sweeteners, ” says Lora Sporny, adjunct associate profession of nutrition and education at Columbia University Teachers College. Artificially sweetened drinks activate our sweetness response, but don’t completely satisfy it, leaving you craving more of the real thing. This can drive us to eat more sugary foods than we would normally.

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Kidney problems

Julie Lin, M.D., a kidney specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, studied the soda habits and kidney health of more than 3,000 women for 11 years. “What we observed,” Dr. Lin says, “was an association between drinking two or more servings of diet soda per day and faster kidney function decline.” In fact, the kidneys of diet soda drinkers declined at three times the rate typical of aging. You don’t want to mess with your kidneys, notes Lin. “They’re really one of the most important organs for keeping our whole body in balance in terms of processing the waste that the body generates just from our daily food intake,” she says. Even just moderate kidney decline goes hand-in-hand with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

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Increased diabetes risk

“If you’re a consumer of diet soda, you have a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome than a non-consumer,” says Lyn Steffen, Ph.D., R.D, a professor in the division of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota. Here’s why that’s bad news: Metabolic syndrome involves a deadly combination of abdominal obesity, elevated blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides (fatty acid derivatives linked to heart disease and stroke) and elevated glucose (high blood sugar)—all of which increases the risk of diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke. Steffen studied thousands of people over nine years. At the end of the study, she looked at the study subjects’ diets and whether they had developed metabolic syndrome. She found that the greatest predictors of someone getting the syndrome were those who consumed meat-heavy diets, fried foods and diet soda. Other researchers have linked diet soda drinkers with a 67 percent greater risk of developing full-fledged type 2 diabetes.

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A January 2012 study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that people who guzzle diet soda daily have a 43 percent higher risk of vascular events—such as stroke and heart attack—than people who don’t drink diet soft drinks. However, light diet soda drinkers—those who sipped diet soft drinks somewhere between once a month and six a week—were not more likely to suffer vascular events.

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So what can you do if you’re truly hooked on diet soda? While drinking water is the best way to quench your thirst, the truth is, that doesn’t always make for the most appetizing replacement. “For most people,” says Sporny, “the weight of water isn’t great enough to make it appealing to them. When fluid becomes a bit heavier, it’s more palatable.” That’s why both Sporny and Lin recommend seltzer water as your swap of choice. Carbonation is a naturally calorie-free way of putting some extra oomph in your glass. If you still want some sweetness to your drink, mix a bit of fruit juice with your seltzer and sip away.

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