Let’s dive into inorganic chemistry…I mean into soda


Welcome to Deep Dive Friday! Today we are going to dive into the abomination known as soda. What once may have been a decent beverage has descended into a substance worthy of Dante’s Eighth Circle of Hell [1], where unsavory fraudsters and imposters reside. Although good artisan sodas are certainly available at finer establishments, the vast majority of the artificially colored, artificially sweetened, and caffeinated liquids sold by Pepsi and Coca-Cola are imposters that do not bear even a passing resemblance to a healthy, hydrating beverage (like water!). There are many issues, per the infographic above, and we will touch on a couple of the big ones.

Let’s start with the artificial colors

Consumer reports did an extensive study on artificial caramel coloring (http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/caramelcolor0114.htm) which is the single most used food coloring in the world, according to a 2013 report from market research firms Mintel and Leatherhead Food Research. Their testing found the following:

– Caramel color, added to many soft drinks and some foods to turn them brown, may sound harmless, even appetizing. But in no way does it resemble real caramel. Some types of this artificial coloring contain a potentially carcinogenic chemical called 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI).

– In 2007, a federal government study concluded that 4-MeI caused cancer in mice and the International Agency for Research on Cancer determined the chemical to be “possibly carcinogenic to humans” in 2011. There’s no federal limit for levels of 4-MeI in foods and beverages, but as of January 7, 2012 California requires manufacturers to label a product sold in the state with a cancer warning if it exposes consumers to more than 29 micrograms of 4-MeI per day.

–  In recent Consumer Reports’ tests, each of the 12-ounce samples of Pepsi One and Malta Goya had more than 29 micrograms per can or bottle. While we cannot say that this violates California’s Prop 65, we believe that these levels are too high, and we have asked the California Attorney General to investigate.

So by pounding can after can of a caramel-colored soda, you are likely exposing yourself to more than the recommended amount of 4-MeI, a possible carcinogen for humans. Yummy!

Here also is a 10-year old’s tale of how junk food with artificial colors affects his body (http://naturallysavvy.com/eat/a-ten-year-old-s-tale-of-how-food-affects-his-body). He says that “when I eat foods with artificial colors, they make me crazy and I don’t even know myself”.

The reason for this was covered beautifully by Robyn O’Brien in The Unhealthy Truth, Broadway Books, 2009. As Robyn explains, in September 2007, a research team from the U.K.’s University of Southampton’s School of Psychology and Medicine shocked much of the conventional medical community with their dramatic findings about the effects on children of artificial colors and preservatives. The researchers studied 153 three-year-olds and 144 eight-year-olds, which is an impressively large number as previous studies had included perhaps dozens only. The children were chosen from the general residential population of Southampton, England, and they represented the full spectrum of childhood behavior, from normal through hyperactive. For six weeks, the kids were given a diet free of the additives the study was focusing on. The kids were also given something to drink each day: One group got a mix of artificial colors and the preservative sodium benzoate, which is used in most sodas and soft drinks. The other group got a “neutral” drink free of these substances, known as a placebo. Note also that both drinks looked and tasted the same, so neither the children nor their families know which group they were in. Furthermore the researchers who handed out he drinks did not know either, which made this a double-blind study.

After the children were given the drinks, their behavior was described by their parents and teachers, as well as an observer from the study who watched them at school. The results were strikingly clear. The children who consumed the mix of food coloring and sodium benzoate were significantly more hyperactive: they moved more, they were more impulsive, and they had trouble keeping focusing their attention on a particular topic. (The researchers pointed out that this does not mean that artificial food additives will prevent all hyperactive disorders as many influences are at work, but this at least is one a child can avoid.) Robyn quotes other studies which reached the same conclusion.

This is just me talking, but I think that giving kids of all ages a drink that will drive them nuts and possibly contribute to cancer is not a great idea.

But wait, there’s more! Soda will make you fat, too!

Now for the artificial sweeteners

I am just going to stop talking now and let Dr. Hyman take it from here regarding high-fructose corn syrup:


As Dr. Hyman explains, as part of the chemical process used to make high fructose corn syrup, the glucose and fructose—which are naturally bound together—become separated. This allows the fructose to mainline directly into your liver, which turns on a factory of fat production in your liver called lipogenesis. This leads to fatty liver, the most common disease in America today, affecting 90 million Americans. This, in turn, leads to diabesity—pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes. So, high fructose corn syrup is the real driver of the current epidemic of heart attacks, strokes, cancer, dementia, and of course, type 2 diabetes.

Interesting, huh? “Have a Coke and a Smile”? More like “Have a Coke and a Crazy, Fatty, Diabetic Toothless Smile”! Again, just me talking, but that doesn’t sound too refreshing or appetizing. Water, please!!


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inferno_(Dante)#Eighth_Circle_.28Fraud.29