We all know fizzy drinks are not great for us. But did you know the extent of the impact that drinking fizzy can have on your gut health?
Containing either sugar or artificial sweeteners, fizzy drinks are guzzled down by their millions. In fact, the UK consumes an average of six billion litres of soft drinks each year – that’s an average of 89 litres per person, per year.
They taste delicious, yes, but they can also be addictive. One study from 2019 found that both the caffeine and sugar contained in fizzy drinks is ‘evidence of addictive properties’. But even the no-sugar varieties can lead to an imbalanced gut.
"There are two main ingredients in fizzy drinks that are considered to be harmful to the gut: sugar in regular drinks, and artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose in low-calorie drinks," gut health expert Caroline Peyton of Peyton Principles, tells Yahoo UK. "So choosing one over the other is not preferable when considering the long term health of the gut."
How sugar affects gut health
A major culprit of the impact of fizzy drinks on gut health is sugar, as Peyton explains this ingredient has been found to affect the gut mucosal barrier, leading to intestinal permeability – also known as leaky gut.
"When the mucosal barrier is weakened, it can contribute to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) type symptoms like bloating or irregular bowel movements. Or even other systemic health concerns due to the transfer of toxicity across the gut into the bloodstream," she adds.
"Research is still limited but has shown that when fizzy drinks are consumed it can begin to alter the gut microbiota creating dysbiosis, favouring an overgrowth of pathogenic strains at the expense of commensal (friendly) strains."
Drinking just one fizzy drink can impact gut health
Peyton says it's important to consider the totality of sugars or artificial sweeteners you’re consuming each day across all food and drink, as this can have a big impact on gut health.
"One can of fizzy drink contains half the daily quota of sugars as set by the government – 15g out of a total of 30g. And even then, the average sugar consumption is now over 100g per day," she explains. "Taking out fizzy drinks can make a huge difference to sugar consumption and in turn help protect the beneficial bacteria and avoid a dysbiotic picture developing."
She adds that it’s often not possible to understand the amount of artificial sweeteners like aspartame you are consuming in a day as they are found in foods such as ice cream, chewing gum, low-fat yoghurts, puddings, low-sugar sauces, jams, sugar-free desserts, sugar-free jams, and various other low-sugar or sugar-free packaged foods.
"One of the problems with both sugar and sweeteners is that they are found in so many foods and it’s not always easy to know exactly how much is being consumed," she says.
Peyton also clarifies that choosing a no sugar fizzy drink is not better than one containing sugar as both ingredients can impact gut health.
Best drinks for gut health
Instead of fizzy drinks, Peyton suggests drinking non-stimulating, non-caffeinated drinks such as water or herbal teas.
"Ginger, fennel, peppermint and chamomile teas can calm the gut," she adds. "Green tea has some research to show it may drive down harmful bacteria, but it does contain caffeine so only drink a little. Plain water is great as it also helps to keep stools soft and easier to pass. Constipation creates an unfavourable environment and may promote dysbiosis."