Killing Soft(ly) Drinks

(This story, authored by me, was published in the ‘Delhi Mid-Day’ in March, 2003)

Answering to a query, a world renowned Indian cricketer once said that he did not drink the soft drink he endorsed. Though his words were not enough to create a bedlam followed by a mass renunciation of the product, the expected remark must have tinkled the thinking of any one who listened to him. However, the one who is aware of the ingredients of carbonated beverages would definitely doubt why the cricket celebrity should take that particular drink at all. He knows, the said player like many other endorsers would not take or use anything they endorse for.

Soft drinks have been around for over a hundred years, but many of their deleterious heath effects have not been deeply or extensively studied, and hence not known. However, scientific studies done so far have shown how as few as one or two soft drinks a day can increase one’s risk for numerous health hazards including problems such as obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, osteoporosis, nutritional deficiencies, heart disease, and many neurological disorders.  

The demand for carbonated drinks, however, has been rising steadily, thanks to the aggressive ad campaigns unleashed by multi-national soft-drink companies. These beverages have become today’s rage, trend and fashion, especially among the youth. Most of the consumers scurrying around for soft drinks are ignorant of the fact that the colourful fluid coming in attractive bottles does not do a bit of good to them. In an attempt to chill out, our young hearts often ignore why a sports person drinks honeyed-water or fruit pulps instead of the drink he/she says good for health.

As a strategy, the manufacturers keep on changing the contents of bottles to make them more attractive to lure more and more thirsty young hearts. Fifty years ago the average serving size for a soft drink was a six-ounce bottle. Today, soft drinks are sold in twenty ounce bottles and are consumed in much larger amounts.

The average young male between the ages of twelve and twenty-nine consumes over 160 gallons of soft drinks a year. Studies show that males of this age group are the largest consumers of soft drinks.  Many of these males receive over ten percent of their total daily calories from soft drinks. Dr. Charles Best, the discoverer of insulin, claims that teenagers who consume too many soft drinks have cirrhosis of the liver similar to what chronic alcoholics have. There is no cure for cirrhosis of the liver except to receive a new liver through a transplant.

It is a truth that soft drinks, even though they contain a large number of calories, have little nutritional benefit, and are known as ‘empty calories’. Most of the calories in soft drinks are from refined sugars, and there are no other nutritionally beneficial components in them.

A common problem that is associated with consumption of a large number of soft drinks is the increased acid levels in the body.  All soft drinks are very acidic, but dark colas such as Coke and Pepsi are much more acidic. The caffeine and acids found in soft dinks such as acetic, fumaric, gluconic and phosphoric acids cause gastronomic distress. The combination and strength of these acids are so strong that when a drain is clogged a plumber will often use a soft drink, or if a car battery is corroding one can use a soft drink to dissolve the corrosion.

Most carbonated beverages contain caffeine, which is considered to be a mild drug and can have harmful effects, especially on children. Caffeine is a drug that acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system. Consumption of this in large amounts can cause diseases and disorders such as insomnia, nervousness, anxiety, irritability, and deviations from the normal heart rate.

Another very serious effect of carbonated drinks on people’s health is the increased risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis.  The large amounts of sugar, bubbles caused by carbon dioxide, and phosphoric acid that are found in soft drinks remove nutritious minerals from bones allowing the bones to become weak and increasing the risk for them to break. This is done by the phosphoric acid disrupting the calcium-phosphorous ratio, which dissolves calcium from the bones. Besides, dental cavities are often associated with carbonated beverage.

Even those drinks that are labelled as ‘sugar-free,’ ‘reduced sugar’ or ‘low sugar’ can still contain enough sugar to cause damage to the teeth, and they will still contain the same acids as the standard carbonated drinks. It is recommended, therefore, to replace carbonated drinks in the diet with other options.

Better substitutes are not scarce in India, which is the largest producer of milk as well as a big producer of citrous fruits in the world. Traditional and natural drinks like milk, lassi, or others such as fruit juices, sherbet, sugarcane juice, nimbu pani, et al are also thirst quenching and nutritious.

P.S: Once, on one of her visits to India, I asked Indra Nooyi, who was then the CFO and is now the Chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo, whether there was any difference between Pepsi colas produced in India and the US to which she said the company followed the same formula  for both the countries. I, then, asked her why there was more pesticide residue in colas produced in India in comparison to that of the US. I also inquired, referring to the fact that roaches and their fecula were found in Pepsi bottles, why hygiene was compromised in India, certainly not in the US; whether the company expected Indians to drink anyhting it produced? But, both the queries drew no answers. Their PR people meticulously intervened and said that she had to rush to attend another meeting – a nice and scholarly way of evading unpalatable questions!

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