Bubble Trouble

The significance of soda on the kidneys and beyond.


Theresa Garnero By Theresa Garnero, APRN, BC-ADM, MSN, CDE

Q: Does drinking soda, whether diet or regular, affect the kidneys? I have consumed way too much soda in my lifetime (over 50 years), and switched from regular to diet a few years ago after getting diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. I'm still concerned that this may negatively affect my kidneys.

A. Congratulations on making the switch to diet soda! Let's look at both sides of the soda coin: Regular and diet.

In terms of regular soda, we have a crisis on our hands. Did you know that 12 year-olds drink an average of two to four cans of soda a day, which comprises about 20 percent of the total daily calories? That's a lot of sugar! The problem is much larger. We add the non-nutritional calories of soda to our regular food intake (we don't eat less as a result of the calories consumed in soda).

On average, adults gain nearly 2 pounds a year. To quantify how this would apply in your dLife, take your current weight and add 20 pounds—that's what will happen in 10 years time unless you can cut out 100 calories a day (or burn it through exercise). A 12 ounce can of regular soda is about 140 calories. If you have been drinking a can of regular soda a day, by simply cutting that out, you can save yourself a few increases in pants sizes over the next decade. Walking for about 30 minutes will burn 100 calories as would iron for 23 minutes— but who likes to iron?! You can save 100 calories by having 2 ounces of pretzels instead of 2 ounces of potato chips, or a ½ cup of brown rice instead of ½ cup of Rice-a-Roni. The possibilities are endless if you tune in your calorie radar or bump up your activity level.

We are acculturated to enjoy the finer things in life and I think we have equated regular soda with a sense of entitlement. Asking people to switch from regular soda to diet soda is like asking a dog to give up their bone. It's not an easy transition, despite the obvious effects regular soda has on making blood sugars skyrocket (although it is a treatment for hypoglycemia), padding on the extra pounds, and its link to doubling the risk for diabetes.

The Nurses' Health Study, which follows thousands of women, found that those who drank one sugary soft drink a day were twice as likely to get type 2 diabetes (as a subgroup, they were also less active). Suspicions are heightened around high fructose corn syrup as being the culprit to triggering diabetes. Researchers are trying to find a definitive answer, but do we need to wait to take action as individuals? Do we need science to prove that drinking a manufactured concoction in a can with ingredients we can't pronounce is bad for us? Did we really need the Surgeon General's warning on cigarette containers before we acknowledged smoking was horrible for our health? Maybe for some folks.

Diet soda, on the other hand, seems fairly innocuous since it is not loaded with the typical 15 teaspoons of sugar contained in a 20 ounce bottle of regular soda. I didn't use to give much thought to grabbing a diet soda, despite warnings from my dietitian friends, until researching your question. As we age, our kidneys are less able to filter out the extra phosphorous contained in soft drinks. Excess phosphorus can cause a loss of calcium and increase you chance for osteoporosis and fractures. Who wants that? Plus there's added sodium, and possibly caffeine which has a diuretic effect that can lead to dehydration and higher blood sugars.

It comes down to making sensible, healthy choices; finding the balance; investing in our bodies. After this reader sent me on a mission to learn more about diet soda, I decided to truly enjoy a diet soda once a week and have water the rest of the time. Are you ready to take another big step? Will you make a pact with me to kick the soda can habit most of the time? Our kidneys and bones will be happier for it.

Read Theresa's bio here.

Read more of Theresa Garnero's columns.

NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition.

Last Modified Date: June 14, 2013

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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by Brenda Bell
Years before I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, The Other Half came out of a doctor's appointment with a diagnosis of "borderline diabetes" and an ADA exchange diet sheet. His health insurance agency followed up on the diagnosis with a glucometer and test strips. After a year or so of trying to follow the diet plan and test his glucose levels, things appeared to be back in "normal" range, and stood there until a couple of years after my own diagnosis. Shortly...
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