THE DETAILS: The beverage choices researchers tested their theory in the cafeteria of Brigham and Women's Hospital during a five-phase study. Phase 1 was a baseline period in which the prices of all regular sodas, fruit juices, sugary waters, and regular bottled water were posted, and Phase 2 included a price increase of 45 cents on the soft drinks but not the water. During Phase 3 the prices went back to normal. In Phase 4, the authors posted educational items informing people that they could lose up to 25 pounds in a year by skipping one soda per day and switching to diet soda or water, and in Phase 5, the educational literature remained posted and the prices of the regular soft drinks were increased again by 45 cents.
They found that during Phase 2, the sales of regular, high-calorie drinks dropped by 26 percent, while the sales of diet drinks increased by 20 percent. The educational campaigns in Phase 4 didn't influence drink sales at all, but when they were combined with the price increase in Phase 5, sales of regular drinks fell by 36 percent, and the sales of diet drinks increased by 14 percent.
WHAT IT MEANS: This study shows that sugar taxes, while unpopular, may actually work in getting people to switch to healthier alternatives. And many sodas are, the authors point out, pretty unhealthy stuff. Adults can consume 230 calories per day from sodas, and research conducted as part of the Nurse's Health Study found that drinking a single soda every day of the week added 10 pounds over a four-year period and increased the risk of developing diabetes by 83 percent. Another British study looking at daily soda consumption linked it to an increased risk of heart disease. Other studies have found that drinking just a half a can per day can increase your risk of overweight or obesity by 26 percent. Diet soda isn't much better, as it can increase your preference for other sugary foods and make you crave high-calorie cereals, breads, and desserts. Other research suggests that people overcompensate for the calories they're not getting in soda and consume more high-calorie foods, putting them at risk for obesity and diabetes.
Nevertheless, we all still crave a fizzy soda every now and then. Here are some of the best healthy soda alternatives from the new bestselling book Drink This, Not That (Rodale, 2010):
• The best Diet Soda: Steaz Zero Calorie Black Cherry Sparkling Green Tea. With no calories, no artificial sweeteners, and no fat, Steaz's bottled teas will give you a caffeine boost along with some healthy antioxidants from green tea that you won't get from that lime-flavored diet drink you were about to reach for.
• The best Energy Drink: Xenergy Cherry Rush. If you're the type to reach for sodas for a mid-afternoon jolt, try this calorie-free, sugar-free alternative that provides caffeine from guarana, a tropical plant that won't give you a subsequent crash the way sugar can.
• The best Fruit Juice: Langers Zero Sugar Added Cranberry. It's best to eat your fruit, not drink it, but sometimes a little natural sweetness is all you need to stop yourself from indulging in that piece of chocolate cake staring you in the face. Langers Zero Sugar Added Cranberry has just 30 calories and 8 grams of natural sugars. Since sugar-free cranberry juice can be a bit tart, you may want to mix it with another healthy choice, Lakewood Organic Lemonade, which has more calories (86) and more sugar (19 grams) but no high-fructose corn syrup—common in premade lemonades. If you're on the go, reach for a bottle of 95 percent organic Olade, a blend of lemon, pineapple, mango, and passion fruit that clocks in at just 20 calories per 16-ounce bottle.
• The best Espresso Drink: Cappucinos. Speaking of being on the go, coffee is a good source of low-calorie caffeine that may actually improve your work performance. But if you prefer espresso drinks, opt for a cappuccino. Because they're mostly foam with a little bit of milk, you get fewer calories in cappuccinos than you would a latte or, heaven forbid, a sugar-laden mocha. Opt for skim or low-fat milk, and order a small to keep your drink in the under-100-calorie range.