Ask LH: How Can I Tame My Soft Drink Addiction?

I've been drinking soft drinks since I was a kid and can't get enough of the stuff — Coke, Fanta, Pepsi, Sprite, RC Cola, Bisleri Chinotto, you name it. As I hit my mid-20s I'm beginning to wonder what all that sugar and caffeine is doing to my insides. Are there any healthy alternatives I can try? (And DON'T say water!) Please help, Chinotto Babe

Soft drink picture from Shutterstock

Dear CB,

You're totally asking the wrong guy here. But I'll do my best to provide advice that seems to have worked well for other people. That's right: do as I say, not as I do.

Your decision to curb your soft drink addiction is certainly a sensible one: these carbonated beverages have been linked to a raft of health problems ranging from tooth decay to liver toxicity and indirect weight gain. Some studies even indicate that too much of this stuff can increase your risk of a heart attack. (I really need to find a different vice to partake in. Maybe marijuana.)

If you're looking for a simple alternative that's relatively easy to make, try mixing soda water with a generous splash of fruit juice. This provides the sweet-and-fizzy combination of a soft drink without the associated health risks.

Now before anyone fires up in the comments, yes, I'm quiet aware that fruit juices are packed with sugar. However, they also contain essential vitamins in place of dodgy chemicals. This is especially true of "100% juice" varieties which steer clear of artificial flavours and preservatives. In any event, the natural sugars will be significantly diluted by the addition of soda water.

If you find this combo is to your liking, you might want to invest in a SodaStream: this will allow you to carbonate regular tap water which will save money in the long run and ensure your soda is always fizzy. We recently tested the new SodaStream Power and it works a treat (look out for a comprehensive taste test, coming soon.)

Another substitute worth considering is homemade iced tea which is rich in antioxidants. The beauty of this option is that you get to control the exact amount of sugar — you can start off with a few tea spoons and gradually ween yourself down to zero as your sweet tooth gets used to subtler flavours. You'll also be getting a dose of caffeine which may help to fill the cola void in your life. If you require a fizz fix, simply mix one part iced tea with one part diet lemonade: the results are deliciously refreshing.

The above fill-ins work well if your favourite poison happens to be fruit-flavoured; especially orange or lemon. Unfortunately, they tend to be less effective when you're trying to kick a Coke habit. Cola has a unique taste that is hard to replicate in a cola-free beverage. This is probably why Pepsi and Coca-Cola dominate soft drink sales.

If you don't like the taste of diet cola, it might be worth experimenting with "mid-calorie" versions which supplement sugar with natural sweeteners. Coke Life is a particularly tasty example — it uses a sweetener made from stevia leaves and sugar that closely resembles Coke's regular taste profile. Pepsi also sells its own stevia version, dubbed Pepsi Next. These drinks certainly aren't healthy for you, but they do pack significantly less evil into each glass. It's all about baby steps.

Finally, you might want to give water a try. No wait, hear me out! Yes, water is the blandest beverage in existence — but it's also the best thing you can put in your body each day. If you find drinking water a slog, there are ways to "trick" yourself into becoming a H2O convert — this in-depth guide explains how it's done.

At the end of the day, it's worth remembering that an occasional soft drink won't kill you. Like other unhealthy food and drinks, it's all about moderation — it needs to be an occasional treat, not a substitute for water. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to buy my third bottle of V for the day.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    Don't buy them. When we have them in the house, I will drink them a lot. When we don't have them, I will happily drink water. So we don't get them very often at all.

      The temptation to buy them is still there though. I don't buy them during our weekly shop, but if I have to head down to the shops to pick up stuff we ran out of but didn't realise, the temptation is there, as is the excuse-making ("well because I did X today.." "well, because I didn't buy Y this week", "well, because I did well at Z..") and it's a very tough thing to break out of (for me, at least).

      So not having it can sometimes be worse.

    About six months ago I cut my coke intake down from a few cans per day to no more than a can of coke per day. It went well enough that two months ago I cut it down to nothing just for the hell of it. I think what did it was just that I wasn't motivated by health concerns or anything that made it feel like I was being forced to give up something I love, which made me come to the realisation that I don't actually care what I drink. I don't get any real joy out of a can of coke. It's nice but I'm mostly drinking it because it's convenient and it's what I'm used to.
    Although I will say summer probably isn't the best time to do this. When you're thinking "I want a coke" and "I need a drink" at the same time it's easy to get those wires crossed and grab a coke. I'm debating whether or not a Frozen Coke counts. I think I'll eventually go back to allowing myself to have a coke here and there, essentially just drinking it when it's inconvenient to drink something else, but for now I'm curious as to how long I can keep it up.

    I also think something that makes it hard is the feeling like it needs to be replaced. Coke was most of what I drank, so it felt like I needed to replace it with something that I could drink every time instead of a coke. Water, juice, milk, I had to find one think to get instead of a coke every time I went to the fridge. I went with cold water (I'd never given it much thought since in the past I'd just drink tap water, but cold water is a thousand time better) when I started cutting down on coke, but now I'm used to a bit more variety and that makes it way easier. The only things I found difficult were meals and alcohol. It took me a while to get used to water with my dinner and as much as I like straight bourbon it's basically doing shots all night since it's hard to get a non-soft drink non-alcoholic drink at a bar.

    So yeah, maybe try and take some of the pressure off. Don't over complicate it by thinking of soft drink as something awesome that you can't have for all these health reasons. Just grab a glass of water or a juice when you go to the fridge for a soft drink. If you do end up drinking soft drink don't use that screw up as an excuse to give up. I think once you break the habit you'll find drinking soft drink isn't that important to you.

    I hit the SodaStream during summer. But I drink it plain, I just feel so much more refreshed drinking it without the flavors added to it. But when I do add extra flavors it's normally fruit juice.

    Willpower and water. Will you get headaches? Yep. Will you get cravings? Yep. Will you hate the "bland" taste of water to begin with? Yep.

    Think about it like a smoker quitting though, all of a sudden simple things have so much more flavour, even water tastes awesome when you're not used to pouring liquid sugar directly down your throat.

    Plus you'll learn what it's actually like to be hydrated. I guarantee if all you drink is softdrinks and never drink water, you're most likely chronically dehydrated.

    Last edited 03/09/15 2:28 pm

    "Dodgy chemicals"???
    I assume you're referring to artificial sweeteners, which while some people can't tolerate due to medical conditions, have been proven countless times to be safe. The only reason for the backlash against them is due to poor and biased studies paid for by the sugar industry.

    Also, water is a chemical. Oxygen is a chemical. Please don't abuse the word 'chemical'.

    The main concern with these drinks is either excess sugar intake, or caffeine.

      I think they mean the dihydrogen-monoxide present in all soft drinks. That chemical is a key ingredient in junk food, is corrosive when prolonged exposure takes place and can even cause severe injuries when used in the presence of solid carbon dioxide.

        Yep. Clearly the only safe drinks contain no DHMO. It's the only way to be safe.

    Save money using soda stream ? No not really. Can be actually more expensive depending on what you drink.

    Stop drinking it. Drink water.

    Again with the WTF ask LH madness. Soon people will be asking what to do when their hair is too long.

      I thought this was a great Ask LH topic. A lot of excellent suggestions for people having difficulty cutting back on something that can be addictive.

    Having long hair isn't generally addictive. Getting your hair cut doesn't normally result in cravings or physical symptoms of withdrawal.

    @grantguest to man who is going bald. [Rolls eyes] Stop losing it then. Grow hair. What is this madness?

    I can cut it out easily, I go weeks or even a couple of months without it, happy to drink water and if I have booze I have CC and Dry which still is soft drink but I don't drink dry ginger ale on its own so there is no craving for it. However, if I am out and absent mindedly order a coke, I am right back onto that stuff and seem to drink a can a day for about a week before I kick myself in the arse and stop again

      I had the samething, but as soon as i had a can at a bbq or a coke with a takeaway meal i was straight back onto 1 to 2L a day without even thinking. It's my biggest vice and strongest addiction.i can't seem to get off it for a sustained period.

    Gave up all soft drinks 2 weeks ago.. Best thing i have ever done.. Hopefully i can keep it up..

    I just went cold turkey. Haven't drank any soda on a regular basis for 18months. I have the odd rum and coke or gin and tonic but that's it.

    I just started drinking tea and I have no desire at all to drink Coke or anything. I might buy a $1 frozen coke like once a month or so, but other than that I haven't bought a normal soft drink since... I dunno when. Probably over a year now. I kinda just see it as a waste of money these days.

    So yeah. Tea.

    My gf successfully gave up a hardcore addiction to Mountain Dew Code Red when she moved here from America - despite the fact that we can GET Code Red, she didn't want to make me buy soft drinks from expensive import stores all the time. She switched it out for fizzy fruit juices (look out for the LOL canned drinks, they're 100% fruit juice that's been carbonated) and water - by getting a thermos cup that keeps her water really cold all day, and drinking filtered water.

    Cold, filtered water is miles away from just drinking straight from the tap. And if you can get into the habit of sipping at it through the day (which is where an insulated cup comes in handy), you're much less likely to feel the urge to go get another kind of drink, because you'll be staying hydrated.

    "Also, water is a chemical. Oxygen is a chemical. Please don't abuse the word 'chemical'.

    He didn't!

    The author specifically mentioned "dodgy chemicals".

    The only abuse I can see is misrepresentation.

    I mostly kicked sugared soft drinks years ago by switching to Pepsi Max.

    More recently, I've switched to sugar-free diet cordial. I keep a couple of bottles of water on a bar fridge on my desk, and a couple of bottles of cordial mix handy, then mix them to taste whenever I'm thirsty.

    This has the added advantage of being OK if your tap water tastes terrible. (and is a lot healthier than burning through a 24-can case of Pepsi Max every week, which approaches the RDI for caffeine.)

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