As our blog has touched on many times, staying healthy and feeling your best requires monitoring and maintaining a lot of little interconnected habits from regular exercise, to our diet to simply how we hold ourselves in the world. Today we are going to look at one of these habits that many people struggle with: fizzy drinks with empty calories. Many workers and students ration out sodas as rewards throughout the day, or you may know a co-worker who is always nursing a giant styrofoam mug of Coke. Similarly, for our older readers, the last few years of the pandemic have led people to be more stationary and turn to drinking more alcohol in the absence of other stimulation. While indulging too much in alcoholic drinks or sugary drinks can lead to different types of their own health problems, I contend that each habit (or whichever one you are looking to moderate) can be addressed by thinking about the same root causes.

First, let’s run down the health benefits of trimming drinks with empty calories out of our diets. Off the top, soda and alcoholic drinks are diuretics, which means that even though they are technically liquid, they dehydrate our body overall. Another point where the two types of drinks meet is our sleep; in enough quantity, alcohol or caffeine can lead to either poor sleep or a disrupted sleep schedule. Then you have the familiar list of risks with each type of drink. Sugary drinks like soda are hard on our teeth (particularly if you are someone who consumes them slowly, meaning your teeth are more continuously coated in sugar), can add to easy weight-gain and, in the most extreme cases, can lead to diabetes. Alcohol, on the other hand, has the same threat of giving you the dreaded “beer gut,” but is famously tough on the brain and liver. Again, many people find a balance of moderate use with either treats like soda or alcoholic drinks like beer, but these should be seen as indulgences to be moderated and, furthermore, thinking about why we come to expect these treats regularly can be useful in curbing our behavior.

Perhaps this is a stab in the dark, but let me ask you if this is a familiar feeling whether you work with a can of cola next to you or you regularly wind down in the evening with a beer. First, the joy of a cold can waiting for you in the fridge that promises refreshment and even invites our imagination to a sunny beach. Second, everyone feels their own “pace” for making it through each of those twelve ounces; whether you sip slowly or take long pulls, the can is yours and you are in control of how fast the liquid drops. And third, the carbonation. As children, we find the novelty of those bubbles dancing around our mouth, and even as adults, this Pop Rock-adjacent feeling gives us unique little moments throughout the day. I won’t pretend like either the invigorating feeling of caffeine or the depressant of alcohol aren’t forces that lead people to their drink of choice, but if you focus on how much of your drinking habits are driven by the simple need to have a cold can with something fizzy in it, then you might be very close to seeing why so many people have turned to seltzer water as a replacement for drinks with empty calories (or, alternatively, why alcoholic seltzers have exploded in popularity over the last few years).

So, what makes seltzer or soda water a healthier alternative? Well, simply put, the can, the cold and the carbonation were never the culprits here, but empty calories were. For instance, if you drink two Coca Colas a day (which I would say is conservative for a lot of soda drinkers) at 127 calories a piece, then that is 1,778 calories from soda a week; even looking at the calorie contents of light beers lead to pretty similar conclusions. Trimming out these calories (even if you still have a few sodas a week) can make a drastic difference in your health and appearance over the course of time. While there are some brands or flavors of sparkling water that contain sugars or artificial sweeteners, with a little smart shopping and label reading, you can avoid this easily. On top of this, the market for seltzer water has grown so much over the past decade that it has never been easier to go to the grocery store and find a wide selection of flavors or brands to try; for those who really get swept away with a sparkling water habit, you can even buy appliances to make your own carbonated beverages at home, which also gives you complete control over the flavor of each glass. As a personal anecdote, I’ve had friends who have given up soda throughout their 20s or 30s, and after some time away, they are actually shocked at how overpoweringly sweet (in a bad way) some of their old favorite sodas were. That’s just to say, that if you get used to the more muted flavor of seltzer water, then you might not even end up missing anything at all.

Again, finding a taste for sparkling water won’t be an instant fix for any sort of habit you have come to lean on to get through the day, but if you are able to “hack” your brain’s expectation for that cold treat out of the fridge and that bubbly feeling in your mouth, then those daily cravings become easier and easier to deal with.