Americans love soft drinks. Just walk down the soda aisle of any grocery store and you’ll see a plethora of sweet, bubbly beverages in every flavor imaginable. But are these drinks the cause of many health problems?

A Harvard professor has expressed an urgent need for public health strategies to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks. Drinks such as sodas, sports drinks, fruit juices, sweet tea, specialty coffees and energy drinks are among the culprits containing sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Multiple studies have advised consumers to reduce consumption of sugary drinks.

In fact, an estimated 1 in 4 Americans still consumes one 200-calorie soda each day and 5 percent of people consume up to four cans of soda daily.

The problem comes from how sugar is metabolized by your body. Glucose is the building block of all foods, and the source of your body’s immediate energy. Fructose is a sugar found naturally in fruit, vegetables and honey, and it is also found in synthetic sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup. When fructose is over consumed (which happens when you eat or drink products with condensed amounts such as candy, desserts, soda, and other sweetened beverages) the excess is metabolized by the liver, converted to triglycerides, and stored as fat. This can lead to fatty liver disease and insulin resistance.

“Sugary drinks are a major cause of obesity, not only because they are sweet and calorie-rich, but because they are beverages with empty calories and no nutritional value,” said Novant Health dietitian Alice Smith . “It doesn’t satisfy your hunger.”

Smith added that fruit juice sometimes is not a better alternative because while it has some nutritional value, it is still sugar-laden and has about the same calories as soda. She suggested eating whole fruit instead of its juice version – enjoying an apple rather than drinking a glass of apple juice. “It’s much more satisfying and takes longer to eat,” Smith said.

Smith also said she believes diet sodas are just as bad as their sugary counterparts. “Avoid the artificial sweeteners,” she said. “They have not been around long enough for us to fully realize the harm they could do, and artificial sweeteners may actually stimulate the appetite.”

The dietitian suggested drinking water, coffee and tea – unsweetened, of course. “Try going sugar-free cold turkey for 10 days,” Smith said. “The first few days are very tough but pretty soon you’ll notice the craving is gone.”

Last year, the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended that Americans limit added sugars to just 10 percent of one’s daily calorie intake. The average 12-ounce soft drink has at least 180 calories – 10 percent of the recommended daily calories for many women and just shy of that for many men.

Need help cutting out added sugars from your diet? Join the Novant Health Sweet Retreat! You’ll receive daily emails with tips for reducing your cravings for sugar-laden foods and beverages for a 10-day period. Register today at .