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Soda ban makes room for America's first love: water

While New York wrestles with the legality of the soda ban, sugary drinks are quietly being edged out in favor of good, old-fashioned water.

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Soda's reign as America's most popular drink could be entering its twilight years, with plain old bottled water making a run for the top spot. Already, bottled water has surged past juice, milk and beer in terms of per capita consumption. The result is that bottled water is slowly closing the gap for the No. 1 spot.

Charles Krupa/AP

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 It wasn't too long ago that America had a love affair with soda. Now, an old flame has the country's heart.

As New York City grapples with the legality of a ban on the sale of large cups of soda and other sugary drinks at some businesses, one thing is clear: soda's run as the nation's beverage of choice has fizzled.

In its place? A favorite for much of history: Plain old H2O.

For more than two decades, soda was the No. 1 drink in the U.S. with per capita consumption peaking in 1998 at 54 gallons a year, according industry tracker Beverage Digest. Americans drank just 42 gallons a year of water at the time.

But over the years, as soda increasingly came under fire for fueling the nation's rising obesity rates, water quietly rose to knock it off the top spot.

Americans now drink an average of 44 gallons of soda a year, a 17 percent drop from the peak in 1998. Over the same time, the average amount of water people drink has increased 38 percent to about 58 gallons a year. Bottled water has led that growth, with consumption nearly doubling to 21 gallons a year.

Stephen Ngo, a civil defense attorney, quit drinking soda a year ago when he started running triathlons, and wanted a healthier way to quench his thirst.

Ngo, 34, has a Brita filter for tap water and also keeps his pantry stocked with cases of bottled water.

"It might just be the placebo effect or marketing, but it tastes crisper," said Ngo, who lives in Miami.

The trend reflects Americans' ever-changing tastes; it wasn't too far back in history that tap water was the top drink.

But in the 1980s, carbonated soft drinks overtook tap as the most popular drink, with Coca-Cola and PepsiCo putting their marketing muscle behind their colas with celebrity endorsements from the likes of pop star Michael Jackson and comedian Bill Cosby.

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