May 16, 2009
Do you have a drinking problem? I am not just talking about alcohol. So, before you say ‘NO’, think about the amount of soft drinks that you and your family consume. Whatever you call them, sodas, aerated water, pop or soft drinks are far from soft.
In fact, they are deliberately designed to create an almost seductive and addictive experience. They do not cause any sudden illness. Instead, as you sip your favourite soda you feel energised by the added caffeine, your taste buds are assaulted by the combination of the sugar and acid tastes while your palate is tickled by the playful sensations of the carbon dioxide bubbles. No wonder these beverages are freely available at every restaurant, fast-food outlet, snack counter, school, entertainment centre and sporting facility. No wonder the global soft-drink business is a mega billion-dollar industry.
What is a soft drink made up of? Let’s dissect your favourite soda. It contains a mixture of substances like phosphoric acid, caffeine, sugar or artificial sweeteners, caramel or other colouring agents, carbon dioxide gas, preservatives like sodium benzoate, aluminium (from the can), all added to water.
Phosphoric acid is a strong acid that promotes an acidic environment in the body with many negative effects. The phosphorus disturbs the delicate balance between calcium and phosphorus in the blood, causing excessive loss of calcium in the urine. This can promote osteoporosis, bursitis, arthritis, gout, bone spurs and kidney stones.
Sugar and Sweeteners
Soft drinks contain a lot of sugar. A 12-ounce can of soda might well contain 12 teaspoonfuls of sugar and with the popular supersizing concept, you or your child may consume more than 60 ounces at one sitting. What makes it worse is that the sugar in most of today’s soft drink is not cane sugar but high-fructose corn syrup, a substance well-known to promote obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. One recent independent study demonstrated a strong link between soda consumption and childhood obesity. High sugar consumption also causes the body to lose calcium and other minerals also promoting osteoporosis and arthritis.
Avoiding the sugar by escaping to diet soft drinks may create even more problems. A study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health found that diet-soda consumption also increases your risk of gaining weight and developing diabetes and heart disease.
The popular sugar substitute in many soft drinks, Aspartame. (Equal/Sweet and Low/NutraSweet), is a dangerous and poisonous substance as it breaks down in the body to form chemicals like methanol, formaldehyde and formic acid. These agents are particularly toxic to the nervous system and should not be a part of our diet.
Even the more acceptable sweetener Splenda has recently been in for question. In the research mentioned before, Splenda was found to reduce the amount of good bacteria in your intestines by 50 per cent and that may have negative health effects, particularly if you’re on certain medications.
Caffeine is a stimulant naturally present in small quantities in some healthy drinks like green tea and cocoa. Other natural beverages like coffee and black tea are often produced in such a way as to deliberately increase their caffeine content. Soft drinks go a step further: they add caffeine in larger quantities to the beverage to deliver a much higher dose of caffeine than is found in the other drinks. I and other health experts believe that small amounts of caffeine offer great health benefits, but the large levels in many soft drinks can be harmful and addictive.
Sodium benzoate is a preservative used for decades by the global soft-drinks industry. It is derived from benzoic acid, a substance that occurs naturally in some fruits, but is used in large quantities to prevent the growth of mould in soft drinks. For the same reason it is also added to pickles and sauces.
There have been concerns about sodium benzoate and cancer because when mixed with vitamin C (sometimes added to some soft drinks), it produces benzene, a cancer-causing substance. U.K. agencies have actually found high levels of benzene is some brands of soft drinks and removed them from the market.
Carbon dioxide is indeed a natural substance, but is also a waste gas that the body eliminates from the lungs with each breath that we exhale. I see no virtue in regularly ingesting more of this substance.
Food Colouring and Caramel
Caramel is a popular food colouring used to darken many soft drinks. It is made from burning sugar and consumption has been associated with genetic defects and cancer in animals. Many other artificial food-colouring agents have also been under scrutiny regarding possible toxicity, and some have been outlawed.
Aluminium gets into soft drinks because phosphoric acid corrodes the aluminium containers used to package the beverage. The industry claims to have solved the problem by coating the interior of the cans with plastic (that may cause other health problems). Nevertheless, toxic amounts still seep into these drinks. Aluminium is a heavy metal that readily deposits and accumulates in the brain and bones and has been implicated in both Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis. Incidentally, the other common food sources of aluminium are processed cheese antacids and processed cheese.
Water is the healthiest part of a soft drink. Perhaps we really do not need all the other stuff that has been added. My advice: drink more water and have less soft drink. After all, you are not just what you eat. You are also what you drink.