Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Hard Look at Soft Drinks

Did you know that ¼ of all beverages consumed in the US are carbonated? Targeting young people, the soda industry's triumph in selling its products means that, according to the National Soft Drink Association, over 600 twelve-ounce servings per person are consumed per year. And, since the 1960's, the size of soda bottles has gone from 6 ½ ounces to 20 ounces, with places such as movie theaters and 7/11s serving a popular 64 ounce size.

Spending billions of dollars on advertising, the soda industry is dedicated to keeping its followers addicted. Containing sugar, aspartame, fructose, caffeine, citric acid, phosphoric acid, artificial flavors, and other additives, carbonated soda has no nutritional value and is a leading candidate for causing a myriad of health problems. In 1998, a paper entitled "Liquid Candy" was published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, or CSPI accusing the food industry of "mounting predatory marketing campaigns [especially] aimed at children and adolescents."

Lets first talk about the sugar.  High doses of sugar increase insulin levels, which can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, increased cholesterol, heart disease, osteoporosis, and other problems, including stimulation of pancreatic cancer cells. Sugar is the leading culprit in cases of tooth decay, weight gain, and premature aging. Most sodas contain over 100% of the recommended dietary allowance, or RDA.

In 1942 the American Medical Association Council on Food and Nutrition stated: "From the health point of view it is desirable especially to have restriction of such use of sugar as is represented by consumption of sweetened carbonated beverages and forms of candy which are of low nutritional value. The Council believes it would be in the interest of the public health for all practical means to be taken to limit consumption of sugar in any form in which it fails to be combined with significant proportions of other foods of high nutritive quality."

Aspartame is a chemical used as a sugar substitute.  When aspartame is kept in a warm place for too long, it changes to methanol, an alcohol that then converts to formaldehyde and formic acid, two known carcinogens.  There are 92 side effects associated with aspartame, some of which are birth defects, brain tumors, diabetes, kidney decline, seizures, and emotional disorders.

In a study to determine the risk of artificial sweeteners on women, it was found that women are at risk for early kidney disease through excess consumption. Women who drank two or more sodas within a 24 hour period were shown to have an excess amount of albumin in their urine, which is an early marker for kidney disease.

Fructose is a natural sweetener that contains the same biochemical components as sugar. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism claims that fructose can be responsible for inducing a hormonal response in the body that creates weight gain.  It is also cautioned that fructose can tamper with collagen development and also may cause copper deficiencies. Further studies have shown that because fructose is metabolized by the liver, test animals on a high fructose diet have developed liver problems similar to alcoholics.

Caffeine, along with sugar, is a highly addictive substance that creates a physical dependence made obvious by the withdrawal symptoms that occur when it is taken out of the diet. Caffeine is responsible for stimulating the adrenal glands, causing adrenal exhaustion when too much is consumed. Some of the symptoms caused by caffeine are jitters, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, jitters, elevated blood cholesterol levels, vitamin and mineral depletion, and gastro-intestinal distress and stomach lining erosion due to increased acids in the stomach. Caffeine has also been linked to birth defects and some forms of cancer. 

In a 2008 study, caffeine was shown to create an increased risk of miscarriage. Women who drank 200 milligrams or more caffeine per day, whether it was coffee, tea, caffeinated soda, or hot chocolate, were shown to have twice the risk level as those women who drank none.  Additionally, a fetus has a difficult time metabolizing caffeine, which decreases blood flow to the placenta and tampers with cell development.  According to a report in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, a controlled study by the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research shows that women consuming less than 200 milligrams of caffeine daily face a 40% risk of miscarriage.

Because of the effects caffeine has on the brain, it depletes the appetite, which can lead to starvation of nutrients essential for the body's needs.  As it relates to soda, a 12 oz can of Diet Coke contains 42 milligrams of caffeine, which is 7 more mg than Coke Classic. Pepsi One has 56 milligrams of caffeine, which is18 more mg than regular Pepsi and Diet Pepsi. Stimulant soft drinks like Jolt and Red Bull use very high levels of caffeine. A December 2000 article published in The Lancet claims that the Irish government ordered "urgent research" into the effects of these high-energy soft drinks after an 18 year old died from consuming three cans of Red Bull.  Aggressive behavior and violence has also been noted when people consume high stimulant soft drinks after drinking alcohol in order to stay awake.

Because carbonated drink labels do not give us enough information on caffeine content, we are often kept in the dark about how many milligrams we are actually drinking with each can or bottle.

Citric Acid often contains MSG, or monosodium glutamate, which is neurotoxin.

Phosphoric Acid inhibits our ability to use calcium properly, which can lead to tooth decay as well as osteoporosis where the mineral content of our bones is reduced, causing them to become more fragile. Peak bone-building years occur during childhood and adolescence, where soda has become the popular beverage choice.  In a 1996 study published by the FDA's Office of Special Nutrition in the Journal of Nutrition, it has been noted that high phosphoric acid consumption interferes with bone mass formation.  A 1994 Harvard study associated cola beverages with bone fractures in teen adults due to the severe reduction in calcium content. Phosphoric acid also interferes with digestion by neutralizing essential hydrochloric acid in our stomach. 

Additional synthetic additives such as acetic, fumaric, gluconic acids increase symptoms of gastro-intestinal distress due to their adverse affect on the stomach lining.

The very act of carbonation is often a cause for discomfort.  A cold carbonated beverage releases carbon dioxide gas that can become trapped in the stomach, distending the organ and causing uncomfortable pressure. Often the gas is released through burping, but until that time it can cause unnecessary bloating.

Mark Pereira, PhD, Associate Professor, and senior author of a study on soft drinks conducted at the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota followed 60,534 soft drink-consuming males and females in Singapore.  The study continued for 14 yrs, with the conclusion that those consuming two or more soft drinks per week had an 87% increased risk of disease compared to those who drank less.  

A 2008 study of men ages 40 and up shows that high levels of soda consumption can lead to the painful joint disease, gout.  Gout is caused by excess uric acid in the blood. The study showed that growing cases of gout over the last ten years coincides with increases in soft drink consumption where high sugar and fructose content is raising uric acid levels. Researchers by U.S. and Canadian doctors have been examining the relationship between soft drinks and gout and have documented over 755 new cases of gout over a 12 year period as the increase in sugar-sweetened beverages has risen. 

So what is the healthiest way to quench our thirst?  Fresh fruit juices made in a juicer, herbal teas, lacto-fermented beverages, and that time-honored famous, clean, delicious beverage: fresh, purified water.  

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