It's no secret that we shouldn't be drinking so much soft drink. Study after study has linked the sweet drink with obesity and type 2 diabetes, and fatty liver disease, spurring many to switch to artificially sweetened drinks. But even diet soft drinks have come under fire, with a 2014 study in the American Journal of Public Health suggesting that diet soft drink isn't promoting weight loss or helping people take in fewer kilojoules.
Worse yet, new research suggests that drinking diet soft drink may speed up brain ageing and increase the risk for stroke, dementia and Alzheimer's disease. A recent study of nearly 3,000 participants over age 45 examined whether the consumption of diet and sugary beverages was linked to stroke and dementia risk over a 10-year period. The study, published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke, found that participants who frequently drank artificially sweetened beverages (such as diet soft drink) were more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and dementia than those who frequently drank sugar-sweetened beverages.
That doesn't mean you should reach for a regular soft drink. Other studies have found that both regular and diet soft drink increase the risk of stroke.
Whether you're drinking regular soft drink or diet, you could be increasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Although that's a health concern on its own, we also know that people with type 2 diabetes are at about a 60 per cent greater risk of developing dementia than those without the disease.
So how do you kick the soft drink habit, whether you're hooked on regular or diet?
Set a goal
Fight the cravings by reminding yourself of your goal each morning. Write it down on your to-do list, put your desire to quit soft drink and your reasons on a sticky note, and put it on your computer – and another one in your wallet so you'll see it when soft drink cravings strike.
Start a healthier habit
If you fall prey to the 3pm call of the vending machine, replace your routine with another, healthier habit. This is the time when many people feel a slump in their energy level. Bring a nutritious snack with you, go for a walk, or buy a tea or sparkling water. What you're really craving is the caffeine or sugar to boost your energy, or a break from your workday. Give yourself these things in other ways.
Take baby steps
For my clients who are drinking lots of soft drink, slowly cutting down can be easier than going cold turkey. Cut your soft drink intake in half and replace it with water or another alternative. Stick to that for a week and reward yourself with a massage or a new book. Then cut down a bit more the following week and set up another reward for yourself. Building on success and breaking a goal down into smaller goals can make it seem less overwhelming.
Train your brain
The fascinating thing about the brain is its plasticity. With your behaviour, you are shaping your brain and creating automatic responses to stimuli. For example, if a looming deadline has you chugging soft drink, find some space between the stress and the soft drink. In that space, you have the power to say no, choose to drink something else or take a break (also great for your brain). And the best part is that every time you don't give in to soft drink, you're weakening the connection in your brain until you don't even think about it anymore. The reverse is also true. Each time you give in, you're feeding the beast and strengthening your addiction.
Try infusing water with fresh mint and lemon. Photo: Melanie Faith Dove
Soft drink alternatives
I encourage my clients to try drinking plain water or, to get the fizziness they crave, sparkling water, while avoiding sugars and sweeteners.
If plain or sparkling water doesn't appeal to you, here are a few other soft drink substitutes:
If you need more flavour than plain water, try mixing in fruit, cucumber or fresh herbs to add taste without sweeteners. You'll also get the benefits of antioxidants and, if you eat the fruit, fibre.
All you need to do to make your own infused water is to place your ingredients in a jug or water bottle and top with water. You can keep it in the fridge for up to two days or carry your bottle with you and sip it throughout the day.
Some of my favourite combinations are sliced peaches with a sliver of fresh ginger, sliced cucumbers with fresh basil and mint, or sliced strawberries and watermelon.
Infused carbonated water
You can find an array of flavoured sparkling waters on store shelves. For the most natural approach, ensure that there is no added sugar or artificial sweeteners in the ingredients list. The ingredients should include only carbonated water and natural flavour from fruit. (Note: Flavoured waters that contain citric acid and other fruit acids can damage your tooth enamel, so it's best to go for plain carbonated water and sip it through a straw.)
One of my favourite infused-carbonated-water recipes is a "fauxjito" (the virgin version of a mojito). Mash up fresh mint and lime in the bottom of a glass using the back of a wooden spoon, add ice and pour in some sparkling water. Just a squeeze of lemon, lime or orange can take plain sparkling water up a notch.
The fizziness of kombucha comes naturally from fermentation, rather than added carbon dioxide, and you can find it in a variety of flavours to keep things interesting.
Because it's fermented, kombucha provides probiotics that are great for your gut health, which has a positive impact on brain health. Look for kombucha that has 5 grams of sugar or less per bottle.
Hibiscus iced tea (RECIPE HERE) Photo: Edwina Pickles
Iced tea is one beverage that's easy to make yourself. That way, you have control over what's in it, and you'll save money on beverages.
Brew some green or black tea and, once steeped and cooled, transfer it to a large jug and top with more water and some lemon slices. If you're worried about overdoing it on caffeine, create another jug using herbal tea. Some of my favourites are rooibos tea and strawberry green tea.
As a bonus, the flavonols and polyphenols in tea have been shown to have the opposite effects of soft drinks, supporting cognitive function and brain health.
Christy Brissette is a dietitian, see 80twentynutrition.com
The Washington Post