Imagine this. A hot sultry day. You’ve just taken a mile walk back from your neighbour’s house after a lunch invitation. As you approach your porch, you peek through blinding rays at the departmental store round the corner. A chilled can of soda would be so refreshing now, wouldn’t it? A can or two may be? Five minutes later you’re shoving a dozen cans of soda into the door of your refrigerator.
The plight of the common man, we just can’t seem to get our hands off those shiny, oh-so-convenient sodas. However, of late, these bubbling beverages have tarnished their reputation among nutritionists, healthcare providers, gossiping columnists, and even loyal teenagers. The one-hour ticking time bomb infographic that went viral vandalizing these water substitutes did not make it any better.
Caffeinated Fizzy Drinks
What are the harmful ingredients?
1. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
Found in practically all processed foods, HFCS was ironically introduced as the healthier alternative to the then touted vice–refined sugar. Marketing gimmicks skilfully concealed the similarity in composition (glucose + fructose) in both HFCS and refined sugar. HFCS=55% fructose (almost twice as sweet as glucose) and 45% glucose, while refined sugar (sucrose)—white or brown, from cane or sugar beet=50-50 glucose and fructose.
So, both are similarly received and metabolized by the body. No additional side effects there.
Then what was wrong to begin with?
Sugar is a problem on its own–whether refined or as HFCS.1 In addition to helping you gain unhealthy weight (the whole empty calories malarkey) and causing harm to your dentition, the role sugar plays in obesity and obesity-related diseases like diabetes has been quite the talk of the white coat town.2
The sugary foods we eat replace what could have been healthier alternatives. They also make us really, really fat because they’re so addictive–addictive because fructose doesn’t give us the feeling of being full.
While we’re calorie counting, potatoes or bread (nothing but glucose) can also make us fat. However, the body breaks glucose down differently compared to fructose.
Fructose can be only be processed by the liver unlike glucose that can be processed by all cells of the body.
Liquid fructose (as in sodas and fruit juices) easily reaches the liver making it difficult for the liver to cope with the workload. The liver ‘panics’ and deals with this shock by quickly converting fructose to fat. This is a classic display of the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality. A fatty liver causes insulin resistance (inability of the body to respond to insulin) which in turn causes obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and even cancer.34
On the other hand, solid fructose (as in fruit pieces) takes its own sweet time to reach the liver, giving the liver buffer time to cope.
Fructose is naturally found in fruits.
Then why are fruits always considered healthy? It’s because they also contain fibers that help tone down the effects of fructose. The fibers don’t allow us to absorb much of the fructose.
How much sugar are we ingesting and how fast? Are we giving our livers enough time to cope?
Too much of a good thing can be bad, too.
Caffeine is added as an ‘energizer’ in most carbonated drinks.
Caffeine works like a drug, occupying and stimulating the same receptors in the brain as morphine.56 It also increases extracellular dopamine levels involved in the brain’s pleasure centers (the use of the word ‘production’ in the infographic may be incorrect) much like other addictive psychostimulants.7 It is no wonder how a sip of steaming coffee can make you feel like all is right in the world.
Caffeine acts as a diuretic, increasing your visits to the john and leaching your body of essential nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, sodium, and chloride that are passed in urine.8 Because of the excess urination–loss of water and nutrients—you may start to feel dehydrated.
Ermm..not really true. Even the so called ‘safe’ diet drinks contain caffeine. Caffeine stimulates the contraction and relaxation of colon muscles (more than the normal), potentially capable of giving you a stomach upset.9 This is more of a problem in individuals who have an innately low tolerance for caffeine.
Having said that, does 34 gm of caffeine present in one can of cola work like a drug?10 Probably not. Also, if you’re already a regular caffeine drinker, the caffeine doses needed to rile your health will be much higher.
3. Phosphoric Acid
This ingredient is usually added in fizzy drinks to ease the superfluous sweetness of HFCS on your palate.
Phosphoric acid scavenges dietary calcium, making it unavailable for absorption by bones (and your bones really need their calcium). It is also hypothesized that phosphoric acid may leach magnesium and calcium out from bones to neutralize themselves, making it a big threat for osteoporosis and cavities.
Increased risks of osteoporosis may also simply be linked to lesser consumption of milk (a reliable source of calcium) as you guzzle down colas instead.
Consequentially, research suggests that colas (including the diet and decaffeinated varieties) lower your calcium-to-phosphorus ratios and bone mineral density.11 Caffeine also seems to contribute to weaker bones.
Even though further investigation is necessary, do you really want to take that risk?
What can JUST 1 CAN do?
One can of a sugary drink can increase your risk of:
Also, liquid sugar-sweetened beverages pose a greater threat to obesity than in the solid form.17 It is but imperative that even the (slightly) health conscious reduce their consumption of such drinks to reduce risks of obesity and obesity-related diseases.18
What can you substitute fizzy drinks with?
Just water. If you need to get the satisfaction of making an attempt to refresh yourself, squeeze some fresh lemon into it.
While the time frames are a little exaggerated in the infographic above, the effects of the ingredients used in caffeinated fizzy drinks (regular/diet/flavored…whatever the label) is what you should really be concerned about.
Yes, moderation is key and you may take a swig or two occasionally. However, if you intentionally overestimate the volume of a swig, know that your future self will not appreciate it.
Learn where to draw the line.
|↑1||Gary Taubes. Is Sugar Toxic? The New York Times Magazine. 2011|
|↑2||Stanhope KL. Sugar consumption, metabolic disease and obesity: The state of the controversy. Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci. 2016.|
|↑3||Laura Palanker Musselman, et. al. A high-sugar diet produces obesity and insulin resistance in wild-type Drosophila. Dis Model Mech. 2011.|
|↑4||J Yudkin, S S Kang, and K R Bruckdorfer. Effects of high dietary sugar. Br Med J. 1980.|
|↑5||Sudakov SK, Nazarova GA, Alekseeva EV, Kolpakov AA. The Neurobiology of Drug Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse. NIH.|
|↑6||Peripheral administration of a μ-opioid receptor agonist DAMGO suppresses the anxiolytic and stimulatory effects of caffeine. Bull Exp Biol Med. 2015.|
|↑7||Solinas M, Ferré S, You ZB, Karcz-Kubicha M, Popoli P, Goldberg SR. Caffeine induces dopamine and glutamate release in the shell of the nucleus accumbens. J Neurosci. 2002.|
|↑8||Bergman EA, Massey LK, Wise KJ, Sherrard DJ. Effects of dietary caffeine on renal handling of minerals in adult women. Life Sci. 1990.|
|↑9||Rao SS, Welcher K, Zimmerman B, Stumbo P. Is coffee a colonic stimulant? Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 1998.|
|↑10||Coca-Cola Product Facts.|
|↑11||Tucker KL, Morita K, Qiao N, Hannan MT, Cupples LA, Kiel DP. Colas, but not other carbonated beverages, are associated with low bone mineral density in older women: The Framingham Osteoporosis Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006.|
|↑12||Malik VS, Popkin BM, Bray GA, Despres JP, Willett WC, Hu FB. Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis. Diabetes Care. 2010.|
|↑13||de Koning L, Malik VS, Kellogg MD, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Hu FB. Sweetened beverage consumption, incident coronary heart disease, and biomarkers of risk in men. Circulation. 2012.|
|↑14||Fung TT, Malik V, Rexrode KM, Manson JE, Willett WC, Hu FB. Sweetened beverage consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009.|
|↑15||Choi HK, Willett W, Curhan G. Fructose-rich beverages and risk of gout in women. JAMA. 2010.|
|↑16||Choi HK, Curhan G. Soft drinks, fructose consumption, and the risk of gout in men: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2008.|
|↑17||Zheng M, Allman-Farinelli M, Heitmann BL, Toelle B, Marks G, Cowell C, Rangan A. Liquid versus solid energy intake in relation to body composition among Australian children. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2015.|
|↑18||Hu FB. Resolved: there is sufficient scientific evidence that decreasing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption will reduce the prevalence of obesity and obesity-related diseases. Obes Rev. 2013.|