It's a well-known adage: Drinking too much soda is bad for you. But just how bad is excessive soda consumption for your body?
The unanimous answer from experts: "Very." And regular soda isn't the only culprit. Even diet drinks, which utilize artificial sweeteners in place of sugar, could still negatively impact an individual's health.
High rates of soda consumption have been linked with numerous health problems, including weight gain, poor dental health, diabetes and cardiovascular disease - which can ultimately lead to heart attacks, stroke and premature death.
To help better understand the risks of drinking too much soda, doctors from Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and UH Case Medical Centers in Cleveland, Ohio detailed exactly how the body responds to sugary, sweetened beverages, as well as how you can cut soda from your diet without eliminating it completely.
Calories and weight
The average American consumes 45 gallons of sugary, sweetened beverages per year, according to a 2011 study by Yale University. Meanwhile, the obesity epidemic is in full swing in the United States, with more than 69 percent of adults considered overweight or obese - a problem which many health experts are quick to blame on Americans' soda habit.
"The main thing is excess calories," Dr. Christopher Ochner, assistant professor of pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told FoxNews.com. "If everything else in their diet is equal, a person who has a can of Coke a day adds an extra 14.5 pounds per year, just from the calories alone."
Many nutritionists espouse the idea that "a calorie is a calorie," meaning it doesn't matter where your calories are coming from as long as you consume around 2,000 a day. And with a 12-ounce can of Coke containing only 140 calories, some consumers believe drinking a can or two of soda per day isn't making much of a difference in their diet.
But according to Ochner, new studies have emerged in the past decade that suggest all calories may not be created equal.
"We're finding some research that seems to indicate that calories from sugar are more easily turned into fat in your body than calories from fat in food are turned into fat in your body," Ochner said. Translation: Eating and drinking sugar makes you gain more weight than eating fat.
Another problem with sugary beverages is the method of consumption - drinking. Ochner noted that when individuals drink a lot of calories, their bodies don't register fullness as quickly as when they eat the calories. Therefore, they tend to drink more and more soda without getting a signal from their bodies to stop.
Furthermore, as people consume lots of sugar in one sitting, they experience what is commonly referred to as a "sugar rush." To match this spike in sugar, the body produces a spike in insulin, which is followed by a glucose crash. How do people compensate for this crash? Typically by consuming more sugar, Ochner said.
"These people wind up spiking and crashing, and the system that keeps trying to regulate this - it's up and down," Ochner said, referring to what is known as the glycemic index. "You get dysregulation, and you wind up getting insulin resistance. The body's not able to properly metabolize the sugar, which ultimately leads to diabetes."
Due to the overwhelmingly adverse health effects associated with drinking soda, Ochner recommends that people should drop soda completely from their diets. But if you still need that 140-calorie fix, he said almost anything else is better than soda.
"There's zero nutritional value. None," Ochner said. "You'd probably be better off eating those calories at McDonald's, because you'd at least get some nutrition."
While the extra pounds gained through soda consumption often contribute to adverse heart conditions such as cardiovascular disease and stroke, some experts believe that drinking sugary drinks can increase a person's risk for an unhealthy heart independent of weight gain.
The three main ingredients in a 12-ounce can of soda include 41 grams of sugar, 30 milligrams of sodium and 38 milligrams of caffeine. According to Dr. Mary Ann McLaughlin, medical director of the cardiac health program and co-director of the women's cardiac assessment and risk evaluation program at Mount Sinai, it's the latter two ingredients that do the most damage to the heart.
"Caffeine can increase heart rate and blood pressure, and too much sodium over the course of the day can increase food retention. This combination of caffeine and sodium has a dehydrating effect," McLaughlin told FoxNews.com. "People drink because they're thirsty, but they end up urinating before long because of the caffeine. What you want is for the heart to be replenished with water, so they think they are hydrating themselves, but they're really not if most of what they drink is soda."
Studies have also shown that people who consume soda tend to develop metabolic syndrome, a condition characterized by a cluster of symptoms, including abdominal girth, elevated blood pressure, raised glucose, elevated triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol (commonly referred to as "good cholesterol").