We have all drunk them – I remember when I dieted many years ago you immediately reached for the ‘light’ versions and you even have ‘zero’s’ now. Go to a fast food establishment and you can have a bucket full of it and even a refill! As you will see, we were aware of the dangers of drinking too many fizzy drinks 40 years ago, but you have got to give the manufacturers their credit they can spin on a dime – or is that $125billion per year.
The estimated consumption of fizzy drinks around the world is 50billion units a day!
There is little doubt that drinking too much alcohol is bad for your health in many respects. Your liver, brain and immune system come under immense pressure when they have to deal with excessive amounts and the long term effect on health is measureable. However, these days, the alternatives that are on every shelf of the supermarket and in bars and restaurants, should not be the first thing you turn to when moderating your alcohol consumption.
The worst offenders are the carbonated drinks. Fruit juices without added sugars and additives mixed with mineral water or undiluted are fine in moderation. They too are high in fruit acids that can cause some tooth damage if you do not clean your teeth at least twice a day, particularly at night.
It is the processed canned and bottled fizzy drinks that really do have some harmful effects on not only the teeth but also our operational systems in the body and structural health of skin and bones.
Do people really drink that much fizz?
The American Soft Drink Association was proud to say a few years ago that the average American consumes over 600, 12oz servings per year. Children are consuming many more fizzy drinks than adults and they estimate that the average teenager drinks an average of 160 gallons of soft drinks per year until their late 20’s. What is more horrifying for me is that they also reckon that teenagers get as much as 10% of their daily calorie intake from fizzy drinks. As I mentioned earlier, the estimated number of units consumed world wide on a daily basis is 50billion.
Children and teenagers are still growing and need a huge amount of nutrients to build healthy bone and other body tissues. It is not just that these fizzy drinks are nutritionally sterile; they contain several harmful ingredients that can have long term effects on your health.
What sort of effects are we talking about?
Scientific studies have shown that as little as one or two soft drinks a day can increase your risk of developing a number of medical problems such as obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, osteoporosis, nutritional deficiencies, heart disease and neurological problems.
Most of the calories in soft drinks are in the form of refined sugars or artificial sugars and they have absolutely no other nutritional content. In one study by Dr. Charles Best who discovered insulin by the way, it was shown that teenagers who drink too many soft drinks could develop cirrhosis of the liver, something we normally associate with chronic alcoholism.
There is no cure for cirrhosis except for a liver transplant.
A very common problem when you drink too many soft drinks is the increased acid levels throughout the body. The worst offenders are Coke and Pepsi. It takes over 30 glasses of high alkaline water to neutralise one glass of Coke. That is 24 more glasses per day than I recommend on the healthy eating plan and many people felt that they could not drink those.
How harmful are the sugars in soft drinks and what are the most common effects?
Caries or cavities in the dental enamel are caused by demineralisation of the calcium in them. Bacteria such as Streptococci, Lactobacillus and Actinomyces form dental plaque that clumps together and adheres to the teeth. Acid is produced and the low pH level that results draws the calcium out of the teeth.
All bacteria thrive in an acidic environment. Drinking lots of soft drinks full of sugars and sugar alternatives provides the perfect environment for them leading to increased damage to the teeth. Our saliva contains calcium, fluoride and phosphate naturally, that would normally remineralise our teeth, but if you are constantly taking in the more acidic soft drinks, demineralisation occurs more frequently than the saliva can cope with.
This ability to corrode our teeth is not a new discovery. I trained as a dental nurse back in 1969 and the dentist I worked for wanted to discourage a young boy of 11 or 12 to stop drinking so much cola as it was causing lots of cavities. He had to extract a tooth and he told the boy to come back the next day. We left the tooth in some coke overnight and the next morning only half the tooth was still there. That was over 40 years ago! Amazing that the formula still contains additives that can cause harm to teeth – why is that do you think? Perhaps down to the amount of tax that certain soft drink manufacturers pay around the world!
Does the acid in fizzy drink have a specific effect on any part of the body?
When you introduce the acid in fizzy drinks to your stomach acid it immediately increases the levels of acid dramatically. It causes an inflammation of the stomach and erosion of the stomach lining, which results in very severe stomach aches. Part of the problem is the combination of caffeine and acids in soft drinks, which include acetic, fumaric, gluconic and phosphoric acids. The effect of these acids is so strong that plumbers will often use a soft drink to unclog a drain or it can be used for example to dissolve corrosion on car batteries.
The stomach maintains a very delicate acid/alkaline balance to enable your food to be digested and then metabolised efficiently. You can see now that by just having one or two soft drinks that this balance is disrupted but in the quantities that most people drink them, there is the distinct possibility of severe damage.
Eventually with constant increased acidity levels there will be erosion of the gastric lining, the phosphorous which is found in high levels in soft drinks will effectively neutralise the hydrochloric acid in the stomach acid, making the digestive process ineffective and this results in bloating and gas.
Carbon dioxide is produced when we consume the soft drink and this depletes the amount of oxygen in the body and some researchers are beginning to connect to this to increased risks to cancer from damaged cells.
How can consuming soft drinks contribute to osteoporosis?
The large amounts of sugar, bubbles created by carbon dioxide and the phosphoric acid remove nutritious minerals such as calcium from the bones allowing them to become weak and brittle. The increased levels of phosphorous from the acid disrupt the calcium-phosphorous ratio, which then causes the calcium to dissolve from the bone.
It is becoming more of a problem as children and teenagers substitute the milk that they used to drink in preference for a coke or Pepsi or other fizzy soft drink. Although milk is not the only source of calcium, it is essential as part of the diet of the growing body and when it is removed at an early age and substituted by this calcium depleting drink, there are long term effects. I have seen the x-rays of the bones of a 16-year-old that could have been those of an 80-year-old.
What about the caffeine that is in some drinks?
Caffeine is a mild drug; in adults too much can elevate blood pressure and cause anxiety. In young children it can cause hyperactivity as it acts a stimulant on the nervous system and they can also suffer from insomnia, anxiety, irritability and irregular heartbeats. Caffeine is addictive and this causes the drinker to want more and more of the soft drinks. It is not unusual for people to drink one can after another much like a chain smoker and cigarettes.
Pregnant women who drink excessive amounts of soft drinks with caffeine in them could possibly be increasing the risk of birth defects.
Is there anything else that causes concern in soft drinks?
Apart from the preservatives and additives I have already covered there are the colouring agents that are used. In particular your lovely dark, bubbly glass of cola did not originally start out as brown in colour. That is due to the caramel colouring caused by the chemical polyethylene glycol which is antifreeze – there are concerns that this is carcinogenic.
What can we use as substitute for canned and bottled soft drinks?
I still enjoy the occasion coke on a hot summer day, but my consumption is down to perhaps two a year from one or two a day. The acid erosion of my teeth is testament to their power of these drinks.
Part of the problem is the addictive nature of caffeinated drinks. To be honest it can be hard for adults, let alone children to give up drinking the harmful variety and you may have to try and wean yourself off them over a period of time.
Substitute drinks like Cranberry juice topped up with sparkling water or soda– Cranberry has actually been shown to help prevent the bacteria from clumping and forming plaque in the first place.
Drink still fruit juices unsweetened but make sure that you are cleaning your teeth thoroughly at the end of the day.
The simplest is to have a bottle of water to hand throughout the day and drink that every time you are thirsty. After about three days you will notice that you will have lost the craving and that the fizzy drinks actually taste far too sweet and have an after taste.
Thank you for dropping by and please feel free to share.. Sally