It’s surprisingly hard to find a drink that has no plus points at all, or one that for which the negatives so far outweigh any benefits, that the positives are effectively negated.
Soda pretty much fits the bill though. Yes, it provides your body with a certain amount of hydration, but at what cost?
What’s in the Can?
To consider the dangers, we need to break down the common ingredients in the average soda product. Some types of soda don’t contain all of these, but we’re looking at the component parts of what most brands do include in their formulations.
With that remit, many soda drinks contain:
- Carbonated water
- Sugar (in some form, ‘high fructose corn syrup’ is common)
What’s Really in the Can?
These ingredients are so ubiquitous on labels these days that we barely see them, but let’s take ‘preservatives’ to begin with. Potassium sorbate is a common one and listed in the ingredients of many big name sodas. Long considered relatively benign, this colorless, odorless substance is ideal for keeping room-temperature products mold-free.
Another common preservative in soda and soft drinks is sodium benzoate, also known as benzoic acid, benzene and benzoate. Both of these preservatives are at the less serious end of the scale in terms of danger to health; merely causing allergic reactions and skin irritations in some people.
However, when sodium benzoate is combined with citric acid (another common ingredient in soda and ‘soft’ drinks), the highly carcinogenic benzene is produced.
Products found to exceed the benzene parts-per-billion (pbb) guidelines set by the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are withdrawn from sale once identified.
“Benzene, a carcinogen, may form at very small levels in some carbonated soft drinks that contain both benzoate salts (added to inhibit growth of bacteria, yeasts, and molds) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C)…(The) FDA is working with the beverage industry to minimize benzene formation in products.”
American Food and Drug Administration
Alongside benzene in your drink, sits phenylalanine, present in many ‘diet’ or ‘low sugar’ brands of soda. Phenylalanine is a neurotoxin, and although natural forms of it are important to support healthy brain activity, it can trigger ADD/ADHD and behavioral disorders in some people.
But frankly, all of that isn’t the bad news.
The Color of Danger
Looking at a label of soda ingredients, one that doesn’t leap out as being a particularly worrying one is the innocent sounding ‘coloring.’ In fact, the chemicals that color your soda are among the most controversial.
Caramel E150d is a very commonly seen, composite coloring in soda and one that you may well be familiar with. In 2011, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) submitted a petition to the United States Department of Health and Human Services Food and Drug Administration, entitled ‘Petition to Bar the Use of Caramel Colorings Produced With Ammonia and Containing the Carcinogens 2-Methylimidazole and 4-Methylimidazole.’
The petition was based on the scientific findings of extensive laboratory testing on mice and rats which concludes that caramel E150d is a potential carcinogen.
Unsurprisingly, one of the companies implicated, the mighty Coca-Cola, disputed the petition, saying that the not-for-profit public health watchdog’s petition ‘…maliciously raises cancer concerns among consumers.’
In attempting to appease public panic over the risk, Dr Fred Guenerich, professor of biochemistry at Vanderbilt University, said that he didn’t, ‘want to exaggerate the potency,’ but went on to say:
“You’re not going to get cancer if you drink a soda, once in a while, but you know the more you drink the greater the risk and there’s no reason to accept any risk from a substance that’s just coloring.”
Dr. Fred Guengerich
Following on from the CSPI petition, in 2014, Consumer Reports filed their own concerns with the FDA.
For now, the drinks industry is able to continue using potentially harmful chemicals, purely for aesthetic (read profit-related) reasons. We strongly suspect the debate will not go away, and who knows? Perhaps the next attempt at more stringent regulation will prove to be the tipping point.
Risk of Type-2 Diabetes?
Aside from carcinogenic concerns, drinking soda is also associated with the onset of type-2 diabetes, as detailed in this research paper published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ)
“Under assumption of causality for the association of consumption of sugar sweetened beverages with incidence of type 2 diabetes, we provided efficacy estimates that over 10 years two million type 2 diabetes events in the USA and 80 000 in the UK would be related to consumption of sugar sweetened beverages.”
What Else Comes Free With Your Soda?
Soda is formulated with phosphoric acid to give a zingy, sharp flavor; and then packed with sugar to offset the acidic taste. If you ditch the sugar and go for a ‘healthy’ version, then you get phenylalanine, aspartame, acesulfame-k or sucralose, to name but a few of the guises that ‘artificial sweetness’ comes in.
A 2015 study led by the Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and published by the American Journal of Public Health looked at the link between the consumption of diet drinks and weight gain, concluding that:
“Overweight and obese adults drink more diet beverages than healthy-weight adults and consume significantly more solid-food calories and a comparable total calories than overweight and obese adults who drink SSBs. Heavier US adults who drink diet beverages will need to reduce solid-food calorie consumption to lose weight.”
The Next Generation
There is virtually nothing to recommend drinking soda, and it’s possible to list many more negative side effects of consuming it (talk to any dentist), and this paper published by the American Journal of Health Education gives a sobering overview of the “the availability of soft drinks in schools (“pouring rights contracts”) and its effects on the growing nutritional problems of American youth,” little of which makes uplifting reading.
The Dangers of Drinking Energy Drinks
Late night? Early morning? Got extra training and lacking the get-up-and-go? Reach for an energy drink, and you’ll soon feel back on top of your game, right? Well, it’s really not that simple, and more importantly, its not that safe.
Energy drinks are a relatively new phenomenon, emerging from Japan in the 1960’s and gaining popularity in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Broadly speaking, they tend to promote caffeine, taurine and vitamins as the ‘active ingredients.’
Too Good to be True?
We’re going to get stuck straight into the science here by starting with a narrative review written by researchers at the World Health Organization (WHO) who considered the risks and adverse health problems linked to consuming energy drinks.
The review states that the primary risks are related to caffeine consumption with high-blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, palpations and miscarriage among the risks of imbibing more than guideline amounts. Since 2014, stricter labelling over caffeine content has been in force in EU countries and Sweden has banned sales of energy drinks to children, with other products only available through a pharmacy.
“The evidence indicating adverse health effects due to the consumption of energy drinks with alcohol is growing. The risks of heavy consumption of energy drinks among young people have largely gone unaddressed and are poised to become a significant public health problem in the future.”
Breda JJ, Whiting SH, Encarnação R, Norberg S,
Jones R, Reinap M and Jewell J (2014)
Kathleen Miller, Ph.D. is a senior research scientist at the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions, and author of ‘Energy Drinks, Race, and Problem Behaviors among College Students.’ She believes that although low doses of caffeine aren’t inherently dangerous, but, “get high enough levels — and I’m not talking really, super high here, say 500 milligrams of caffeine, that’s the equivalent of five cups of coffee – and you run into what’s called caffeine toxicity.”
But what does that mean? After all, aren’t many of us guilty of relying on our favorite latte or espresso in the morning to get the day started? True, but while most of us won’t drink five cappuccinos in quick succession, some people do exactly that with energy drinks to get a fast ‘buzz.’
A Loophole in Regulation
Well, here’s a thing. Many of the energy drinks feature ‘natural’ active ingredients, with plant or herb extracts such as guarana and ginkgo biloba commonly used. By doing so, the manufacturers can market the product as a ‘dietary supplement’ rather than a food product.
What that means in terms of regulation is that although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does regulate dietary supplements; if an individual substance has been declared ‘safe’ and is generally recognized as being so by qualified experts, then it can be considered a ‘food additive’ and escapes FDA preapproval before being added to foods.
Thus, those components in dietary supplements – such as energy drinks – considered to be ‘active ingredients’ require no FDA preapproval.
Energy Drinks -v- Sports Drinks
The advertising used to promote energy drinks is also open to accusations of being misleading, to say the least. Some products imply that by drinking them, you have energy to spare, you can go and play sports and so on. There is a sense that energy drinks have leapt onto the back of sports drinks in terms of advertising. Indeed, people often do refer to ‘sports and energy drinks’ in the same breath, when the two things are really quite different.
Caffeine is a diuretic, and is pretty much the opposite of what you should be drinking if you’re playing sports.
Kathleen Miller comments on this as well, saying, “The general public in many cases doesn’t really get the difference between a Red Bull or a Monster on one hand, and Gatorade on the other hand. And they are doing the exact opposite things. Gatorade or Powerade, those are designed to rehydrate and bring back electrolytes into the system. They are designed for use with exertion. The others are really, really good things to avoid under the same circumstances.”
Do You Want to do This to Your Body?
In 2015, the American Heart Association published the researchers findings following one of the association’s Scientific Sessions. The message was startling; just one single 16-ounce energy drink measurably raised blood pressure and doubled stress hormones in the young, healthy test subjects.
Indeed, shortly after that research was published, in the UK, an office worker in his 20’s suffered a heart attack after drinking eight cans of a caffeine energy drink, in order to cope with a 60-hour working week.
Drinking excess levels of caffeine also puts pressure on your liver to process it, diverting its energy away from the removal of other toxins.
The amount of sugar contained in the average energy drink is also bad news, with the equivalent of the sugar contained in two bars of chocolate. The spiking of blood glucose levels causes insulin to be released. One effect of constantly stimulating your pancreas to respond to the presence of glucose is the increased chance of developing type-2 diabetes.
Energy drinks are not good for your health in any sense. If you feel tired, then find a way to get more rest. Sy nthetic or potentially dangerous fixes such as energy drinks are not the answer and it seems, might seriously compromise your health.