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From the Lab to the Living Room: Sodas and Hypertension

By Beth Sumrell Ehrensberger, R.D.

A not-so-sweet hypertension risk.

Love your afternoon regular soda? If sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are a regular part of your day, it might be a good idea to consider an alternative, especially if you have high blood pressure, or are prone to it. According to a recent issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, new and emerging research has found that cutting back on just one serving (12 ounces, or a typical-sized can) of SSBs—things like soda, punch and lemonade—slightly lowered blood pressure over the course of 18 months in both men and women with early hypertension. And though some of the reduction was a result of weight loss among the participants (as is typically the case), even after researchers controlled for that factor, the drop in blood pressure was still measurable. So if your blood pressure is high, and you’re working on bringing it down by reducing your sodium intake, losing weight and exercising, now you can add cutting back on soda to your arsenal. (It’s not a bad idea for all of us given all the empty calories SSBs pack!)

I know it’s not easy to give up something that’s been a habitual part of your day. I’m still working on trimming my three-cup coffee habit down to one caffeinated cup per day. But in my own quest for making changes, I’ve found that what works best is to find a substitution that I like nearly as much. You’ll be surprised at how your tastes can adapt when you stick to your plan. So, if you’re used to a daily soda, for example, don’t axe the ritual of drinking something icy and crisp. Try swapping it with an iced tea you’ve brewed yourself, with a splash of 100 percent juice (like pomegranate or cherry) and flavored seltzer added for sweetness and fizz.

Now, if you’re drinking more SSBs than your care to admit, take baby steps on making the switch. Going “cold turkey” can make you feel deprived, and you’ll be much less likely to stick with your change. So just decide to choose to swap one of your daily SSBs with something healthier, and continuing swapping the rest out slowly.

One last note: You’re probably wondering why I don’t suggest that you simply swap the sugary version of your favorite beverage for its sugar-free, diet kin. That’s because sugar substitutes come with their own set of dietary baggage, so it’s best to stay away if you’re not already dependant on them; you’d only be trading one crutch for another. Good luck!

 

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