Canadians continue to consume high amounts of sugary drinks – like soda – despite reports showing overall consumption per capita dropping year-after-year.
According to research released earlier this year by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Canadians purchase an average of 444 ml of these drinks per day and consume an average of 334 ml a day, which still puts sugary drink sales “near historic highs.”
With these numbers, one can’t help but wonder if Canadians have an addiction to sugary drinks, mainly pop.
“From my experience, people definitely note the feeling of addiction towards having their pop,” said Andrea D’Ambrosio, registered dietitian and spokesperson with Dietitians of Canada. “When trying to wean themselves off – if you will – people will experience symptoms that are withdrawal-type cravings and desires. They may even get a little bit more agitated than usual, which in this case one can presume that sugar addiction is a real thing.”
Those who have a natural sweet tooth tend to favour such drinks on a regular basis, D’Ambrosio says. Sometimes, she adds, the addiction can be a habitual thing where the act of consuming a soda drink can be associated with feeling or activity.
For example, the feeling of stress can trigger a craving which acts as a coping mechanism. In other cases, habitually consuming soda can be linked to watching your favourite television show.
“When we have sugary foods and drinks we get a bump in our serotonin – our happy hormones,” D’Ambrosio explains. “This temporary makes us feel a little bit better and distracts our brains, but then it can form an unhealthy habit or dependency when people are using the soda as their coping mechanism.”
But, as evidence has shown over the years, drinks with high sugar content can be harmful to one’s health.
According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, people who have one to two cans of sugar drinks a day or more have a 26 per cent greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes than people who rarely have such drinks.
With men, in particular, there is 20 per cent higher risk of having a heart attack or dying from a heart attack if they consume an average of one can a day compared to men who rarely consumed the drinks.
Women, however, who consume one can a day have a 75 per cent higher chance of getting gout than women who rarely drink such beverages.
It’s a bad habit that can be hard to break, D’Ambrosio says, but it doesn’t have to be if you have the right strategies in place.
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So if you’re ready to kick that habit, D’Ambrosio offers some tips.
Elimination vs. reduction
“It doesn’t necessarily always have to be an elimination – it can be a reduction,” D’Ambrosio says. “Even if you are able to decrease by a small amount, that small amount is still significant over the long-term.”
D’Ambrosio suggests that soda sippers start where they are with their consumption and then just take it down by increments.
For example, if you drink a 355 ml can of soda, try switching it for the mini 222 ml cans.
Limiting consumption to decrease frequency
To help decrease your consumption further, don’t only limit the volume you consume in one sitting, but limit the amount you drink overall in a time frame, D’Ambrosio says.
“So maybe someone who would have a can three times a day, they go down to once a day and specify when they’re going to have it,” D’Ambrosio says. “Or reduce it to two times a week. Maybe this is once on a Friday and once on a Tuesday. So identify times that might work for you.”
Only cool what you need
If you buy a case of soda, for example, only put one or two cans in the fridge at a time – not the whole case, D’Ambrosio suggests.
“Keep the rest of them warm,” she says. “This is a strategy by Brian Wansink of Cornell University. He tells people to only have one cold can in the fridge a day. If you want to have more pop you’ll have to drink it at room temperature.”
This technique is to help discourage soda drinkers from wanting to consume more because – let’s face it – a cold soda beverage is always better than a flat and/or warm one.
“People hate to feel deprived,” she says. “They kind of want to rebel against it. So in this case, it’s made so that there’s a rule in place… These strategies work well because they allow people to have it but in a certain controlled situation.”
Decrease your palate for sugar
Next, try to wean your palate off of the taste of sugar, D’Ambrosio advises.
“I do this with my clients for highly sweetened yogurts, for example,” D’Ambrosio says. “What we’ll do it mix in a little bit of plain yogurt to offset the ratio until their palate gets used to the less sweetened yogurt. So we can do the exact same thing with sweetened beverages too.”
Assess internal motivations for change
Figure out why you want to decrease your consumption of sugary drinks. By finding your motivations, this can help you get over your dependency.
For example, D’Ambrosio finds that people who are told they must get off a certain food or drink for health purposes will often be more disciplined than someone without a clear motivation.
By knowing this, it will help you strive towards your goal.