Thanks to the incredible power of advertising both on television and in other popular media, sales of fizzy soda drinks are as high as ever. Millions of people around the world enjoy drinking their personal favourites from among the large selection of canned and bottled soda drinks that are currently available. It seems a day doesn't go by in which a new design, or variation on a popular flavour is brought to the attention of their adoring public by expensive and creative television advertising campaigns. But what does all of this mean in terms of people's health and just as importantly their increasingly expanding waistlines? Let's take a look at why drinking soda hampers weight loss efforts and indeed, promotes weight gain in regular consumers of the product.

There is a growing and worrisome epidemic of obesity that is sweeping through nations across the world. One of the most common reasons put forward for this are the changes in lifestyle of especially Western societies from a previously more active one to an increasingly more sedentary one. This is closely followed by the change in diet over the last thirty or so years from a predominance of home prepared and cooked meals to an unhealthy preference for convenience foods. These are made up of out and out junk food in the form of fast food restaurant burgers, fries, pizzas, hot dogs etc to pre-packaged, processed ready meals sold in supermarkets. There is a third, less publicised reason for the explosion in obesity, especially amongst the younger generations and this is the heavy consumption of soda drinks.

Soda drinks come in many flavours, but can be broken down into two major groups to help us understand how they are contributing to the growing obesity numbers. These are soda sweetened with sugar and sugar substitutes and soda sweetened with artificial sweeteners.

Let's take the first group, soda sweetened with sugar.

The sugars used to sweeten soda drinks are mainly derived from refined sugar, which is labelled on cans or bottles as sucrose, fructose or dextrose. They can also be derived from other sources such as corn syrup, maple syrup, honey, molasses, fruit juice concentrate, modified corn starch or malt. So how do they affect the body and lead to obesity?

With all of these sugars, when they are digested in the body, they send a large and rapidly assimilated volume of sugars into the bloodstream, which gives our bodies a quick energy hit as these sugars are further broken down into glucose which the muscles use to provide them with energy so they can work harder for longer. Two things happen here.

The first is that because we have adopted a more predominantly sedentary lifestyle, our muscles don't need all those sugars as they are not working. So the sugar is left in the bloodstream doing nobody any good and a considerable amount of harm.

The second thing is that because the body cannot tolerate so much sugar in the bloodstream, it acts to bring the situation under control by releasing a similarly large dose of insulin from the pancreas, the organ in the body where it is produced. The insulin prompts a process whereby the excess sugars in the bloodstream are processed into fats, which are then stored in fat cells located predominantly around the belly.

Over time and with continued frequent consumption of soda that is sweetened with sugar, that store of belly fat cells grows ever larger. This results in the typical belly fat problem experienced by many people. It is also a major cause of weight gain and when combined with a poor diet of processed foods and a sedentary lifestyle, leads to obesity. The increase in belly fat in itself is another serious problem in waiting, as belly fat is described as live body fats, which recent research have found to be a catalyst for the growth of certain cancer cells especially in the colon.

The good news is that by cutting out all soda drinks sweetened with sugar and combining this with some light daily exercise and a better diet, the levels of belly fat will begin to reduce and your weight will also go down.

Now let's look at the second group of soda, those sweetened with artificial sweeteners.

At first glance, the answer to the obesity problem would seem to come from a switch from sugary drinks to those using artificial sweeteners. However, this is not necessarily the case, as we shall see.

The most common artificial sweeteners used in today's "sugar free" or "low calorie" soda drinks are aspartame and sorbitol. By far the predominant sweetener is aspartame, despite a growing amount of evidence to suggest that this product is extremely harmful to human health. Before we explore the health angle of consuming anything containing aspartame, lets look at the weight issues surrounding this and other artificial sweeteners.

The major drawback in terms of weight problems from the use of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame is that they may, in themselves not directly cause weight gain, but there is strong evidence to suggest they do so indirectly. This is because aspartame and other artificial sweeteners interfere with the way the brain registers hunger or fullness and fools it into believing that we're still hungry. This triggers normal feelings of hunger even when we are not hungry which, again in our modern, western way of life is enough to send us in search of food. The usual mode of operation here is to grab something that we can eat quickly, which will often be a sugary snack of some description, such as a pastry, chocolate or candy bar, cake, pie, biscuits or cookies or a savoury snack that will also be laden with unhealthy things like trans fats and salt such as potato chips, corn snacks (nachos etc), pretzels etc.

This action is just as likely to raise blood sugar levels fast, or in the case of very salty snacks blood pressure to dangerous levels.

The other dangers to health from artificial sweeteners such as aspartame come from extensive research that has found a link between cell DNA damage and the formation of cancer cells triggered by aspartame. Likewise, it is known that at temperatures exceeding 83 degrees Fahrenheit, the wood alcohols in aspartame become unstable and mutate into formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen and the very same substance that is used as embalming fluid. In short, a health time bomb waiting to go off.

So the best solution, if this information has done its job and made you think twice about reaching for your next can of heavily advertised and either naturally or artificially sweetened cola or orange or whatever, is to leave it where it is and find something else to drink. You don't need it, despite what the TV commercials are pounding into your brain.

A great and healthy alternative is to chill some plain water in the fridge, then add a squeeze of fresh lemon, or lime and drink it with some crushed ice. This is totally thirst quenching, tastes great and as one of nature's great weight loss tips, is healthier for you than you can know! Oh, and another good side effect of totally giving up drinking soda (if you regularly drank two or three cans a day), is that you may lose several pound in the first week without doing anything else!