man pointing at soda

Sodas — the nonalcoholic, usually sweetened carbonated beverages that America has come to love — were originally sold for medicinal purposes and date all the way back to the 17th century (via Encyclopedia Britannica). As sales took off, production capabilities increased, and people began drinking the drinks as a form of refreshment in place of water. And we’ve never really looked back. Soda has since become a global phenomenon with sales in the billions.

By 2018, the average American was drinking more than 38 gallons of soda a year. However, that figure has been slipping over the past few years. The drink market is crowded, and soda alternatives like seltzers and coffees and teas have definitely gained in popularity. But that’s not the only reason soda numbers are falling. From scientists to physicians to public health officials, a growing number of experts are also warning about the potential hazards of our favorite bubbly colas and fruit flavored pops. They warn that drinking soda promotes obesity, alters chemical and hormonal levels within the body, and drastically increases risk for disease. But is it true? Can soda really impact your health? And will giving it up improve the quality of your life? Let’s see.

When you quit drinking soda, you probably won’t be as dehydrated

woman drinking water in place of soda

Sipping on an ice cold soda seems like a great idea at the end of a long, hard day, but that’s a mistake. Ingredients such as sugar and caffeine keep it from being absorbed into your body and hydrating your cells the way water can.

To calculate the impact of sweeteners like those found in soda, researchers in Mexico conducted an experiment on a group of thirsty rats. Some of the animals were given regular water while the others received water that had been sweetened. After four weeks, the animals drinking the sweetened water not only had more markers of dehydration in their blood, their kidneys also showed distinct signs of damage from dehydration.

Caffeine also plays a role in keeping the body dehydrated — though the impact is less severe. Douglas Casa, a professor of kinesiology, told Cooking Light that while caffeine doesn’t stop the body from absorbing fluids, you don’t retain quite as many fluids when you drink something that’s caffeinated compared to something that isn’t. Although minor, the dehydration from a caffeinated drink could be enough to impact cognitive function, mood, and vigor, he said.

Eliminate soda from your diet and your teeth will thank you

Think of the sugar in soda as an enabler when it comes to poor oral health. While the sugar itself does not harm your teeth, it does promote the development of the two biggest causes of cavities and tooth decay: bacteria and acids.

Consider that there are more than 700 different strains of bacteria living on and around the teeth in an average person’s mouth. And these bacteria feed on sugar — it’s what helps them grow and thrive. As bacteria multiply, they form what’s known as a plaque, which is the term for a colony of bacteria. According to WebMD, some plaque adhere to teeth, allowing more bacteria to grow and ultimately producing acids which wear down tooth enamel and cause cavities. Other plaque can form around the gums, producing toxins that enter your gum tissue and cause gingivitis.

In a study of 3,541 people published in Clinical Oral Investigations, researchers in the U.K. found that a person’s risk for significant tooth "wear" grew by 1.4 times for every sugary drink they consumed daily. The more wear and tear teeth experience, the greater the risk for cavities can become.