The debate in the District over whether to excise a beverage tax has generated a discussion about sodas and if they are really as unhealthy as some experts say.
The debate started last year when D.C. Council member Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) introduced the Healthy Beverage Choices Act of 2019 that would impose a 1.5 percent excise tax on sugary drinks that has a natural common sweetener such as sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened ice teas, coffee drinks and syrups or other concentrates that are intended to be used in the preparation of a beverage.
Nadeau and her allies say sodas and other sugary drinks are the cause of rising rates of ailments such as childhood obesity, heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and premature death.
In essence, Nadeau and supporters of her legislation argue that the excise tax would deter consumers particularly from low-income neighborhoods from buying sodas and sugary drinks for the benefit of their health.
However, there are nutrition experts who say that while water remains the healthiest source of liquid, sodas can be consumed with measure and good health can be maintained.
Tavis Piattoly, a registered dietician and director of performance enhancement at the Ochsner Clinic’s Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans, said drinking sodas and sugary beverages with restraint and a balanced diet, can be healthy.
“If you generally watch what you eat and are reasonably active, a soda or two a day isn’t going to derail your efforts,” Piattoly said in an article that appeared in WebMD, a website devoted to medical and health issues.
Dee Sandquist, registered dietician and manager of nutrition and diabetes at the Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver, Washington, agrees that a balanced diet can negate any harmful effects of sodas and sugary drinks.
“If you drink two, three or more cans a day, the added sugar can pile on the pounds unless of course the soft drinks are planned into a diet of moderation, variety and of course, exercise,” Sandquist told WebMD. “If you are trying to cut calories but don’t want to give up soda altogether, switching either to the new lower-calorie sodas or to diet sodas is a good option.”
Supporters of beverage taxes, such as Nadeau, have argued sodas can be addictive. However, Liz Marr, a registered dietician and a principal with Marr Barr Communications, a Colorado-based public relations firm specializing in nutrition and health issues, said addiction can be an inaccurate term used toward those who like to consume sodas a lot.
“People have an affinity for certain foods and they develop food habits, but that’s not the same as an addiction,” she said. “Keep in mind that when you’re trying to adopt a healthier diet, it’s not a good idea to completely deprive yourself of treats. A very spartan diet without some of your favorite foods is not sustainable.”
Elisabetta Politi, a nutrition manager of the Duke University Diet and Fitness Center, said one who prefers to drink sodas cannot be considered addicted in a clinical sense. She does admit that giving up sodas has its challenges.
“Soft drink lovers will testify that it can be awfully hard to give up the fizzy stuff,” Politi said. “One reason is that when we consume something sweet, the taste triggers our brains to release chemicals called opioids — which makes us crave more pleasurable tastes.”
Marr said anyone who feels that their soda consumption may be getting out of control should “figure out how to include their favorite foods into their diet.”
Alternatives to Sodas
Kelly Kennedy, another registered dietician, said in a 2017 article published by the website Everyday Health that there are alternatives to sodas that are healthier.
Water infused with a fruit slice, such as a lemon or lime, serves as a good alternative to sodas, as does green tea, she said.
“Studies of green tea suggest that it may help reduce the risk of several types of cancer, heart disease, obesity, kidney stones and possibly even cavities,” Kennedy said. “In addition to this, green tea is calorie-free — if you have it without milk or sugar — and naturally high in antioxidants.
“Green tea is available in many varieties,” she said. “Drink it hot or iced, and if you want a little sweetening, a few drops of honey will serve you well.”
Kennedy also suggests juice added to seltzer water, vegetable-squeezed juice, soy milk and red wine in moderation.
On red wine, she said “if your drink of choice is a spirit mixed with cola, you’re better off ordering a glass of wine. Specifically, red wine, which, when consumed in moderation, has been associated with reduced risk for cardiovascular disease. There is also research investigating resveratrol, an antioxidant compound in red wine, and the protective effect it may have against Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.”