WASHINGTON - The U.S. is a nation of soda-holics. Nearly half of all Americans drink soda daily, and not just one glass or can. The average American drinks 2.6 glasses of soda a day, a Gallup survey indicates.
Each 20-ounce serving of regular soda contains up to 15 added teaspoons of sugar, and nutritionist Margo Gladding says many drinkers don't even know it.
"People are drinking them in excess and they are getting extra calories that ultimately harm their health," she says, citing an increased risk of cardiovascular problems, obesity, diabetes, tooth decay and bone loss.
New York City has banned the sale of extra large sized sugary sodas, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest recently filed a petition urging the Food and Drug Administration to set safe limits for the amount of added high-fructose corn syrup in beverages.
Meanwhile, questions are being raised about the chemicals in diet soda, including concerns that artificially sweetened beverages can actually cause someone to crave sugar-laden foods.
"It is tricking the body into thinking more sugar is actually coming, that addiction of wanting sweet, sweetness is still there," says Gladding, who believes diet soda is just as bad as the full sugar kind, maybe worse.
So what is a poor soda drinker to do?
Gladding says the best course is to quit cold turkey. But she acknowledges it is tough to kick the soda habit.
"For some people, slowly weaning themselves off is the best approach," she says. "It is about replacing and eliminating."
She says there are great alternatives. Start with plain carbonated water to keep the fizz and add some lemon, lime, a bit of ginger or some mint.
Gladding says tea is a great choice, hot or cold. Some teas, including ginger, chai, or licorice, have a bit of natural sweetness.
She also says the best thing parents can do for their kids is to never give them soda in the first place.
At a busy table in the Union Station food court Tuesday, Debby, a mom from Connecticut, says she strictly limits her children's soda consumption.
"It is only when we are out of the house. We are on vacation now. It's for special occasions, but we don't really have it in the house," she says.
At the University of Maryland, the student union offers plenty of sodas on tap. A student named Sarah sips on her Dr. Pepper and acknowledges that while she has thought of quitting, "it normally doesn't happen."
Her friend Chelsea nods in agreement.
"I like the taste, also the caffeine," she says.
But other students nearby drink water and juice. And the beverage industry is aware of their non-soda preferences too.
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- New York City's new sugary drink rules
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