By DAVID ZINCZENKO
Soft drinks have been around since the 17 th century when lemonade vendors would walk around the streets of Paris, a tank of lemon juice sweetened with honey strapped to their backs. A hundred years later, in 1767, Dr. Joseph Priestley of England first figured out how to carbonate water, and soda pop was born. Let's just say things have gone downhill since then.
A 2012 Gallop Poll found that nearly half of all Americans drink soda daily. If you're a soda drinker, and resolved to cut calories in the New Year, then diet soda might seem like the best choice. But more and more, researchers are cautioning that the extreme sweetness of artificially sweetened sodas and the numerous chemicals in them may contribute to weight gain as much as the regular stuff.
What about SodaStream? The home soda brewing system has taken America by storm, reporting $436 million in sales in 2012, up 51 percent from the previous year according to published reports. With claims of being both environmentally- friendly as well providing soda that "fits your health and diet" (the nondiet versions use real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup), is SodaStream a healthy alternative?
Well, just because SodaStream uses real sugar in the place of the commonly-used high-fructose corn syrup in their sodas, doesn't mean you're drinking something natural. The lower calorie totals in their regular flavored syrups don't come from the swap in sugars, but the addition of artificial sweetener sucralose. According to a company representative, sugar and Splenda are used in equal proportion in their non-diet drinks.
Additionally, SodaStream's flavor packs still contain chemicals, just like regular sodas. Caramel coloring, used to make SodaStream's colas, is one of many additives that some consumers have gone out of their way to avoid based on animal studies that suggest possible cancer risks. And even healthy-sounding SodaStream flavors, such as diet pink grapefruit, can contain food dyes that have raised questions about some negative health issues, such as hyperactivity, in some children.
While high fructose corn syrup and sucralose are not necessarily worse for you than sugar, many nutritionists take issue with America's overconsumption of sugar and sweeteners in general, and point to a consumption of sugary drinks as a factor in the rising obesity rates and the prevalence of diabetes and heart disease.
But diehard soda lovers needn't give up their beloved pop just yet. SodaStream can still be a useful tool in your quest for better health. Just skip the sugar, dyes and artificial flavors and get creative. You can use it to build your own designer sodas: make seltzer with your SodaStream, then add in 100 percent pomegranate, cherry or cranberry juice. Companies such as P&H Soda Co., Drink More Good and even Williams-Sonoma carry lines of all-natural soda syrups, which can be used in lieu of the SodaStream brand syrups.
Or, you can take things into your own hands by creating your own flavors at home. Fresh ginger and simple syrup are all you need to make homemade ginger ale. There are even a number of cookbooks dedicated to homemade soda syrups available at your local library or bookstore.
While soda, in all shapes and forms, is basically sugar water, SodaStream can still be a worthy investment. For a truly healthy New Year, just swap the syrups with questionable additives for natural or homemade versions.
David Zinczenko is ABC News nutrition and wellness Editor and the author of "Eat It to Beat It!" To discover more hidden sources of sugar, and how to lose weight by skipping other ingredients in our everyday food, check out "Eat It to Beat It!" here .
FULL STATEMENT FROM SODASTREAM IN REGARDS TO 1/13 "GMA" SEGMENT:
The SodaStream system empowers consumers to make 'better for you' bubbles, personalized to each individual's taste. SodaStream's flavors do not contain high-fructose corn syrup or aspartame. All SodaStream flavors exceed the food safety standards set forth by the FDA, and are labeled in accordance with federal guidelines.
Specifically with regard to caramel coloring, any SodaStream products that contain caramel coloring do so at levels well under the warning threshold defined by the California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (29 micrograms of 4-MEI per ready-to-drink serving).
Pertaining to artificial colors, dyes and other synthetic ingredients, SodaStream flavors use only those ingredients that are recognized as safe by the FDA. We encourage all consumers - especially those with sensitivity to particular ingredients - to read nutrition labels and make informed choices.
For those consumers seeking dye- and chemical-free options, SodaStream offers several flavor varieties made from natural ingredients that are completely free from artificially sourced flavors, colors and other synthetic ingredients.