Stop Drinking Soda With These Healthy Tips

Drinking soda is a hard habit to break. Try these tips to help you stop swigging soft drinks and switch to something healthier.

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If you're thinking about giving up sugary—or diet—soft drinks, good for you. Going sans soda will eliminate several health risks. The biggest risk for regular soda drinkers is the excess calories, said Lona Sandon, RD, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. "The calories in regular soda are coming entirely from added sugar, and you're not getting any value in terms of vitamins or minerals, or even good quality carbohydrates," Sandon said.

And soda has other downsides. Studies have shown that its consumption is linked with tooth decay and diabetes, and it also seems to be bad for your bones. "It may have something to do with the phosphorus in soda, or it could be that people are drinking soda instead of other beverages—like milk—that have nutrients necessary for healthy bones," Sandon said.

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Also Ditch Diet Soda

Sugar-free sodas may not have any calories, but that doesn't mean they're any good for you. In fact, they may even contribute to weight gain, according to a 2017 study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. (Research on this topic has been mixed.)

Plus, diet drinks have many of the same health risks as regular soft drinks, including tooth decay and bone thinning, and they've also been linked to heart disease and depression in women. Switching to diet sodas may be a smart first step if you're trying to eliminate excess calories, said Sandon, but your best bet is to eventually give them up, too.

Given the slew of potential benefits, it is certainly worth the effort break your soda drinking habit, even if it's tough. Try some of these expert tips for dropping the pop.

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Wean Yourself Off Slowly

The health benefits may be enough to convince you that you should stop drinking soda, but it could still be easier said than done. "People really can become addicted to soda, so you have to be a realist and not an idealist," said nutritionist Stefanie Sacks, author of the book What the Fork Are You Eating?. "I don't recommend going cold turkey. You need to wean yourself off, just like you would anything you've become dependent on."

If you typically drink multiple servings of soda a day, Sacks suggested first cutting back to one a day. Give that two weeks, then switch to three sodas a week. "It gives you a chance to adjust gradually, which should lead to real, sustainable change," said Sacks.

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Mix It With Water

Sandon also recommended weaning yourself slowly off soda, and sometimes suggests that her clients start drinking half-soda, half-water. "You're automatically drinking less and hydrating and filling up with water, which is a good thing," Sandon said.

But there's an added advantage, as well: "It cuts back on the sweetness you get from soda, which is one of the things people get really used to. If you're drinking less sugar, your taste buds will change and soon you won't need that sweetness anymore."

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Start Tracking Your Calories

You may not realize how many extra calories soda is adding to your intake. Each 12-ounce can of Coke, for example, contains 140 calories, while a 20-ounce bottle has 240.

Using a calorie-tracking app may help drive home just how much those beverages can affect your daily calorie consumption. Instead of pouring yourself refill after refill, start paying attention to how much you're actually drinking. Once you do, you may be more willing to cut back.

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Calculate Your Exercise Costs

Another way to quantify the calories you're drinking is to think about how much exercise it would take to burn them off. In a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Public Health researchers placed signs in corner stores stating that a 20-ounce bottle of soda would take 5 miles of walking or 50 minutes of jogging to burn off.

These "advertisements" worked: When teenager customers saw these signs, they were more likely to buy a smaller soda, a water, or no drink at all.

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Switch to Unsweetened Tea

Need that jolt of caffeine to wake up in the morning? If you're not a coffee drinker, Sandon suggested sipping on unsweetened iced tea instead. "It can be just as refreshing, and there are real health benefits to drinking the phytochemicals in tea," Sandon said.

If you don't like the taste of plain tea, mix in some lemon, mint, or a small amount of sugar or artificial sweetener—at least during your transition-from-soda phase. The important thing is that you're aware of, and in charge of, exactly what's going into your drink and how much is added. "When you explain calories in an easily understandable way such as how many miles of walking needed to burn them off, you can encourage behavior change," said the authors of the 2014 study.

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Drink a Glass of Water First

Whenever the urge to drink a soda hits, fill up a big glass of ice water and finish that first. "A lot of times, people drink soda just because they're bored, or they're thirsty, and that's what's available or that's what they're used to," said Sacks.

If you're still craving a soda after you've downed your H2O, then you can reconsider whether it's really worth it—but chances are your thirst will be quenched and you'll feel satisfied from just the water. (You can make this work while you're out and about, too, by always carrying a bottle of water with you.)

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Treat Yourself to Natural Brands

When Sacks has successfully weaned her clients down to just a few sodas a week, she often recommends they switch to a brand with fewer artificial ingredients. "They're more expensive, but you'll be drinking them less often," Sacks said. Sacks recommended Grown Up Soda, Santa Cruz Organics, and Blue Sky because they don't contain high-fructose corn syrup or artificial ingredients, and generally contain less sugar than the big brands. "They're an overall healthier choice, especially if you're only drinking them occasionally."

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Give Seltzer a Try

If it's carbonation you crave, try drinking plain or flavored seltzer water, suggested Sacks. You can buy seltzer by the bottle, or make your own at home with a carbonation machine.

"Toss a little fruit juice in there for flavor, and eventually change that juice to fresh-squeezed citrus," said Sacks. "That way you still get the bubbles that you love in soda, but you're in control of how much sweetness and sugar is added."

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Enhance Your Water

Even still water (or non-bubbly) can be made more palatable with the addition of some fruit or natural flavors. "People tell me they don't like water, but often they just need to experiment with new ways to drink it," said Sandon.

Sandon recommended adding lemon, orange, or cucumber slices to a pitcher of water in your refrigerator, which can serve as a detour when you go hunting for a cold soda.

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Forgo Caffeine

If you drink a lot of soda and you're not quite ready to give it up, try buying caffeine-free versions instead. You may start drinking less without even realizing it, suggested a 2015 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition. In the study, participants were split into two groups and all told to drink as much soda as they'd like for the next 28 days. (One group got regular, one group got caffeine-free.) Even though there was no noticeable taste difference between the two, the caffeinated group drank 53% more over the next month—about 5 ounces a day. When our bodies get used to regular caffeine, we crave more of it, said the study authors, prompting us to drink more.

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Steer Clear of Soda Triggers

You may notice that you only drink soda in certain places or situations: In the afternoon at the office, for example, or when you eat at a certain restaurant. You may not be able to completely avoid these scenarios—you've still got to go to work and should still enjoy eating out—but you may be able to change those bad habits.

If it's the office vending machine that tempts you to buy a soda every day, try to stay away from it in the afternoon—and pack your own healthy beverage or a refillable water bottle so you have an alternative. Or if you tend to crave soda with a certain type of food, try restaurants that offer other options instead.

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Try It for Two Weeks

Weaning yourself off something gradually works best for most people, said Sacks, but some may want to try the cold turkey approach. If you plan to go that route, think of it as a temporary change: Giving soda up for two weeks or a month may be easier and more manageable than ditching it forever.

The best part about this trick? Once your time is up, you may not even want to go back to soda—at least not at the frequency you drank it before. "We acquire a taste for sugar depending on how much we have on a daily basis," said Sandon. "If you cut out soda for a while, you may be surprised at how sweet it tastes ones you go back." (Want extra help with the cold-turkey method? Enlist friends to take the challenge with you.)

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Save It for Special Occasions

Once you're able to break your regular soda habit and the drink loses its grip on you, it can be treated just like any other junk food: If you really love the taste, there's nothing wrong with an occasional indulgence, said Sacks. "If it's your gotta-have-it food, then by all means splurge on a soda now and then," Sacks said. In fact, knowing that you can have a soda on your cheat day or during a special night out may help you resist them on a more regular basis. "Just do it from a place of education: If you understand that soda is essentially just sugar and artificial flavorings, then you can be more smart about when or if you're going to drink it," said Sacks.

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