One of the most popular drinks of the 20th century has been the soft drink. Also called or known as pop or soda. I can say with great certainty that it will not be such a popular choice as the 21st century continues due to its detrimental effects on our health. Soft drinks are one of the most toxic beverages for one’s health and yet are still consumed by so many people on a regular basis. In this essay we are going to dissect soft drinks. Consider it the everything you ever wanted to know about soft drinks, but were afraid to ask article! And you should be afraid to ask, for reasons that will be covered below.
In our analysis, we are not going to talk about every soft drink. Naturally this would be a huge feat! Rather, I will use specific examples of 7Up, Ginger Ale and Brisk Ice Tea, as a general sample of all soft drinks, except one. We are not going to touch Coca-Cola, as there is so much to say about it, that it requires a whole write-up of its own, which I will do in the near future.
If you are a soft drink consumer, my intention is that this article sheds some light for you on what exactly you are putting into your body.
If you are not a soft drink consumer, this article will definitely make you thankful you are not. Let us then begin our journey of getting to know soft drinks.
The History of Soft Drinks
First, let me begin by giving you a little background information on soft drinks. Since their emergence onto the market, soft drinks have come to be known by many names, such as: soda, pop, soda pop, or fizzy drinks, depending on which part of the world one is in.
Most soft drinks are carbonated. In terms of the word “soft”, do not let that fool you into thinking there is anything gentle about these substances. They have simply been termed “soft” since they are non-alcoholic and alcohol is usually referred to as a “hard” drink.
Believe it or not, soft drinks first began to be produced in their rudimentary form in the late 1700′s. They were supposed to be a spin-off from mineral water, which scientists already knew then, had healing properties. Well, perhaps they started out that way, but today they have turned into chemical potions and nothing else.
By the late 1800′s soft drinks had become artificially flavored and were available to the general public in pharmacies – imagine that, as they were still associated with healing potential.
In the early to mid 1900′s soft drinks went through some ups and downs and were almost pushed out of business due to sugar shortages, but they bounced back and from the 1960′s were available in sugar reduced or diet form.
In the mid to late 1900′s soft drinks boomed in their types, flavors, varieties and availability. From the 1980′s, low calorie or diet soft drinks began to be artificially sweetened and regular soft drinks began to be sweetened with artificially produced high-fructose corn syrup due to its cheap costs of production.
Click here to view a timeline and read a more detailed history of soda pop.
Finally around the turn of the new century more and more people have come to become aware and take seriously the chemical nature of soft drinks and their unpleasant health effects. In some parts of North America, several schools have already begun banning vending machines with soft drinks and their sales.
Analysis of a Soft Drink
I find it kind of ironic, that a drink that started off with the purpose of having healing properties has throughout time evolved into one with extremely harmful properties.
So what is in the average soft drink? – 3 things really.
For starters, water and interestingly enough we all seem to fuss over where we get our water from these days. We also seem have no problem paying for water we assume is of higher quality, yet we never seem to question the quality of water that is used in the soft drinks.
Secondly, sugar – and lots of it! Oh what’s that? You only drink sugar-free, well then in that case, more chemicals for you.
And finally, chemicals – flavors, colors, preservatives – you name it!
So let us now look in detail at the three soft drinks I will be using as specific examples and dissect them further. As I already mentioned, Coca-Cola and like products will not be used in this analysis as so much needs to be said about them separately. Likewise, only regular pop will be considered, as artificial sweeteners on their own, also require an in-depth analysis and write-up.
Note: analysis is based on Canadian values of these substances and ingredients and/or nutritional information can vary in other parts of the world.
Ingredients: Carbonated water, glucose-fructose and/or sugar, citric acid, natural flavors, malic acid, sodium citrate and sodium benzoate
This type of water contains a high amount of carbon dioxide gas – hence no surprise that many people have a lot of gas after drinking carbonated beverages.
The process of dissolving carbon dioxide gas is called carbonation. It results in the formation of carbonic acid. This is the first ingredient that leads to the rather heavy acidity of pop.
Carbonated water is also known as sparkling water but it is usually not the same as soda water, which normally also contains salt.
Glucose-fructose and/or sugar: Most soft drinks today are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, which is a chemically altered sugar, composed mainly of a mix of fructose and glucose in various proportions.
Both glucose and fructose are monosaccharides, meaning single or simple sugars that do not need to be digested by the body, instead they are readily absorbed into the blood.
Citric Acid: This compound is considered a natural preservative, which also adds a sour taste to foods. Being an acid, it adds to the overall acidic pH of soft drinks.
In low concentrations, citric acid is quite harmless. However, under high concentrations, such as regular consumption citric acid has several undesirable health effects, which will be discussed in a follow-up article to this, which will strictly focus on health effects of soft drinks.
Natural Flavors: Since we have no idea what these are or where they come from, I really cannot comment on these. It seems the word “natural” has an interesting meaning in today’s society and the fact that these “natural flavors” are not explained leaves me suspecting that they are nothing more than some processed additives in disguise.
Malic Acid: Is considered a generally speaking safe additive as it is found naturally occurring in many fruits. It is added to various foods to provide a sour taste. Nonetheless it is an acid and adds to the eroding effects of soda pop.
Sodium Citrate: This chemical is used as an acid regulator and is generally considered safe for consumption. Note however, it does break down into sodium in your body.
Sodium Benzoate: This is considered a natural preservative by some, but that is only due to the deceptive definition of the word “natural” today.
It can cause hives, asthma, or other allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. In children, sodium benzoate may adversely affect behavior (especially in children with ADHD).
Another problem is when sodium benzoate is used in beverages that also contain ascorbic acid (vitamin C). The two substances, in an acidic solution, can react together to form small amounts of benzene, a chemical that causes leukemia and other cancers.
In the early 1990s the FDA had urged companies not to use benzoate in products that also contain ascorbic acid, but in the 2000s companies were still using that combination. A lawsuit filed in 2006 by private attorneys ultimately forced Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and other soft-drink makers in the U.S. to reformulate affected beverages, typically fruit-flavored products.
Calories: 160 per 355ml can
Carbohydrate:43g (sugar 42g)
In conclusion, if the chemicals do not bother you, then the fact that this product is 100% sugar should. Also, although the sodium level here is generally small, if you already have high blood pressure, the soda pop is definitely not helping matters.
So how is it 100% sugar? 1 gram of carbohydrates is equivalent to 4 calories. That means that if this product has 43 grams of carbs, it should have 172 calories. Which ironically means this product is 107.5% sugar. So how the company chose to label it with 160 calories beats the heck out of me?
Well I did not leave this unanswered, instead I decided to call their consumer information line and unfortunately the representative was unable to answer my question and simply assured me that this is in line with all labeling laws. However, seeing that scientifically it makes no sense, I asked to be directed to someone who would know. Upon leaving my information, I was told I would be contacted by someone, at which time I will fill you in on the details.
Ingredients: Carbonated water, Sugar/glucose-fructose, citric acid, natural flavor, sodium benzoate and color
We have already discussed the first five ingredients above. As for the color, well again due to the ambiguity it could be anything. In other countries, such as most of Europe, every color is specifically identified as a number, where one can check it based on carcinogenicity information, etc. Here seeing as that information is conveniently withheld from us, we cannot speculate what that color may be. Sometimes calling the company directly will reveal the ambiguous ingredients such as natural flavor and color and other times it will not as the company will simply tell you it is protected by trade secrets.
Calories: 130 per 355ml can
Carbohydrate: 34g (sugar 34g)
Although a little better than 7Up, it is yet another 100% sugar product.
[1 gram of carbohydrates is equivalent to 4 calories. That means that if this product has 34 grams of carbs, it should have 136 calories. Again, there exists what seems to be a mysterious inconsistency.]
Brisk Ice Tea
Ingredients: Water, Sugar and/or glucose-fructose, citric acid, tea powder, sodium hexamethaphosphate, flavor, phosphoric acid, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, caramel color, calcium disodium EDTA, dimethylpolysiloxane, potassium benzoate and color
I was never a big drinker of pop, but admit I enjoyed the odd commercial ice tea in the past, it just somehow seemed “healthier” than pop. Well when I saw this list and realized what I used to drink, I cringed! This was back during my school days – where labels did not seem to be a priority, like they are now.
Okay so here we go
Water: If you regularly pay a premium for bottled water, then you should be asking yourself why you are drinking this, as no where does it say that this is mineral, filtered or spring water. Hence I would imagine it is nothing more than ordinary tap water.
Sugar and/or glucose-fructose: Covered in the 7Up section above.
Citric acid: Covered in the 7Up section above.
Tea powder: Not enough information is given to be fully aware as to what exactly this product is or what it, itself is made of – and for some reason I doubt that it is pure, crushed tea leaves.
Sodium hexamethaphosphate: Sounds like something nutritious your body would enjoy, doesn’t it? Yeah right!
It is used as a food additive for reasons like: flavor protecting, pH value adjusting, freshness preserving and natural color keeping.
This chemical has various health concerns associated with it, anything from being an irritant to causing chest pain. For a full scientific study of health risks associated with this one, click here.
Flavor: Well at least this time it does not try to make us feel better by saying “natural”. Again, this flavor can come from many and in many different forms and with such limited information, it is impossible to determine its safety.
Phosphoric acid: Food-grade phosphoric acid is used to acidify foods and beverages, but not without controversy regarding its health effects.
Phosphoric acid is generally considered a strong acid and has been greatly linked to leaching calcium from bones, among many other undesirable health effects.
Sodium Benzoate: Covered in the 7Up section above.
Potassium Sorbate: This chemical is used as a food preservative. It has been well tolerated by humans for many years and appears to have no ill-health effects associated with it.
Caramel color: Sounds nice – but do not get excited and start picturing your favorite caramel candy.
Caramel color is chemically produced and has some long standing, unanswered health questions. It was at one point considered as a possible carcinogen, although up to now studies are inconclusive.
Calcium disodium EDTA: This substance is used as a chelating agent and has mixed results as to its benefits as well as its drawbacks.
EDTA has been found to be both cytotoxic and weakly genotoxic in laboratory animals. Oral exposures have been noted to cause reproductive and developmental effects. On the other hand some people use it for various treatments.
For a detailed scientific study on this click here.
Dimethylpolysiloxane: This is used as an anti-foaming or anti-caking agent. It is considered a low-toxicity agent.
For a detailed scientific study on this click here.
Potassium benzoate: This is used as a food preservative. It has generally speaking, the same safety concerns associated with it as sodium benzoate, such that in the presence of ascorbic acid it produces small amounts of benzene, which are carcinogenic.
Color: More color and again we have no other information listed about it, giving us no idea as to its safety or nature.
Calories: 130 per 355ml can
Carbohydrate:33g (sugar 33g)
Again at 4 calories per 1 gram of carbohydrates, this works out to 132 calories – a smaller discrepancy, but nonetheless still a discrepancy.
Where the Brisk Ice Tea is concerned I really do not know what is worse here, being 100% sugar or the slew of questionable chemicals it contains. In my opinion, it is by far the worst of the three soft drinks studied here today.
So there we have it, three popular soft drinks dissected. In case you are wondering the same story goes for Sprite, Orange Pop and the like, except for Coca-Cola/Pepsi products and Mountain Dew, which on top of all the above also have caffeine added to them.
I think the health effects associated with drinking these substances are obvious, especially on a regular basis. However, I will be doing a follow-up to this article focusing on specific health effects that are associated today for sure with drinking soft drinks.
I know that Evolving Wellness focuses on achieving and maintaining optimal health, but personally I do not believe soft drinks belong in the life of anyone even striving for just average health, as there are no pros to these substances, only cons where your health and body and concerned.
They do not hydrate, they do not offer vitamins or minerals or any other nutritional benefits. They are simply sugary-chemical beverages that we somehow accepted as a “normal” part of our society.