Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Can of Cola.... Toxic to Your Health? ... Or the Target of a Well-Orchestrated Financial Take-Down?

High fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and now a mysterious chemical called it true that your can of  soda may be wreaking havoc on your health?  Sweetened soft drinks have been linked to obesity and diabetes, and now a consumer protection group is linking soda to CANCER.  Is it true that soda is the root of many health issues or  are soft drinks unfairly singled out in a plan to target the corn and sugar industries?

Regular Soda
Soda and sugary soft drinks have been on the “naughty” list for years.  Recently, the soda industry has been slammed for its use of high fructose corn syrup (sugar) as a sweetener and has been directly linked to the epidemic of obesity, especially as it pertains to childhood obesity.  Soda vending machines are banned from schools.   Is high- fructose corn syrup really the root of obesity?

The fact is, regardless of the sugar source chosen to sweeten soda,  it would have the same physiological effect as high-fructose corn syrup:  whether beet, cane, or corn sugar, agave nectar, fructose, or honey were the sweetener of choice  in soft drinks, the physiological impact on the human body would be the same.  So, to single out corn syrup as a villain is just plain...wrong.

Something else that is just plain wrong.  Did you know that 12 ounces of Coca-Cola Classic contains 39 grams of carbohydrate from sugar and 12 ounces of orange juice also contains 39 grams of carbohydrate from sugar.  They BOTH contain the equivalent of 10 tsp of sugar.  Granted, the OJ also contains vitamins....but in terms of contribution to obesity?  THEY ARE EQUAL.  Even more interesting: 12 ounces of prune juice contains the equivalent of 17 tsp of sugar.   The carb may come from fructose and not high-fructose corn syrup...but let’s call it like it is....the soda, OJ, and prune juice are all 100% carb sweetened with different sugars that have the same calories/gram and behave  the same way in the body.

Sugar Free Soda

So, after learning that a 12 ounce can of soda contained about 10 tsp of sugar,  some people switched  to sugar free versions of their favorite beverage.  It didn’t take long for the media to perpetuate the story that like regular soda, diet soda ALSO caused weight gain.  They provided all sorts of “reasons” why diet soda would cause weight gain...including the idea that the sweetness of diet soda made a person crave more sweet things.   When the dust settled, it was decided that it was not diet soda, but what people were eating with the diet soda that was causing weight gain.  (Have you ever been at a fast food restaurant and heard a customer ordering a Big Mac, large fries,  apple pie and a diet soda? )

Brown Colored Soda?
Yesterday came the coup de grace in the maligning of soft drinks.  The “C” word...cancer....was attached to the caramel coloring used in colas, root beer, Dr. Pepper.  The “big guns” have been drawn in the war against soft drinks.  Big guns for Big 2009, 9.4 billion cases of soft drinks were sold in the US alone with the average American drinking 708 12 oz. cans of soda/year.

Are these dire warnings and dramatic “research studies” making a difference in the consumption of soft drinks?  Since 1998...when we first began to hear about high fructose corn syrup and its link to obesity and type 2 diabetes,  ....per-capita soda consumption is down 16%.  Many people are heeding the message.  But is the message valid?

If we are going to site very high sugar intake as a cause of obesity....then we have to site ALL high carb foods as all carb foods turn 100% into blood sugar and have the same effect in the body.  There should also be warnings targeting  bagels, soft pretzels, muffins, fries, baked potatoes, legumes like chick peas and lentils, rice, pasta, fruit, yogurt, milk, juice, bread...and the list goes on and on.  ALL carbs turn to blood sugar.  No one kind of carb has less calories or more calories/gram than another. 

In February, The CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest), a consumer watchdog group, petitioned the FDA to ban ammonia-sulfite caramel coloring in brown sodas such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi.  The chemical in question is 4-MI (4-methylimidazole).  4-MI is  formed when sugar  mixes with ammonia and sulfates to create caramel coloring.  The CSPI claims that 4-MI is an animal carcinogen.

The agency went so far as to state that Coke and Pepsi (with the knowledge of the FDA) are needlessly exposing people to cancer risk.

The FDA doesn’t agree stating that soda still contains far too little 4-MI to pose much of a cancer risk adding that a consumer would have to drink over 1000 cans of soda every day to reach the doses administered to rats in the studies that linked 4-MI to cancer in rats.

The FDA limit for 4-MI in caramel coloring is 250 parts per million and Reuters calculated that the highest levels of 4-MI found by the CSPI were about 0.4 parts per million which means it would be highly unlikely that a person could consume enough 4-MI to increase the risk of cancer. . In fact, findings of regulatory agencies worldwide, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, European Food Safety Authority and Health Canada, consider caramel coloring safe for use in foods and beverages.

And even the CSPI admitted that soda drinkers should be “much more worried about the high fructose corn syrup and other sugars in sodas which contribute to obesity and diabetes”. 

For the record, the caramel coloring in soda is purely has nothing to do with the taste.  Back in the 1990’s, Crystal Pepsi was introduced.  It was Pepsi without the caramel coloring.  It flopped.  Consumers want their colas to be brown in color.  In my opinion, there has to be another way to naturally add brown color without the 4-MI in caramel coloring.  If an alternate ingredient choice were used, it would silence this “charge” immediately. 

But...the consumer groups have chosen to focus attention and millions of dollars maligning soft drinks.  I can’t say that I am a fan of soda...I’m not.  But it’s time to call a spade a spade.  Someone seems to have an axe to grind with the corn and sugar industries....

In the words of the CSPI:  "Soda drinkers should be much more concerned about the high-fructose corn syrup or other sugars used in soft drinks," the CSPI statement said. "Soda drinkers are much more likely than non-soda drinkers to develop weight gain, obesity, diabetes, and other health problems." 

Guess we’ve come full circle….high fructose corn syrup….. again…………