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     Volume 6 Issue 12| March 30, 2007 |

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Syeda Shamin Mortada

On a hot summer day, under the scorching sun, the one thing which is sure to revitalise and refresh you, is a fizzy, chilled soft drink. Kids love it and adults adore it! But, the fact is that soft drinks are not actually that soft and may be quite hard on our health.

In the Arab countries soft drinks are usually called mashroob ghasi, meaning gas drinks. These gas drinks are produced by injecting carbon dioxide into the drink at a pressure of several atmospheres. When you open a bottle and serve the drink, the pressure is released and the carbon dioxide comes out of the solution forming numerous bubbles and begins releasing the carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. The reason these carbonated drinks manage to get you hooked by the sharp taste which induce a slight burning sensation is due to the carbonic acid concentration, and if you happen to keep your drink unattended for a few hours it tastes flat and sweet as most of the carbon dioxide is released in the air.

Consumption of these bubbly energy and sport drinks is an all- time high among all age groups of consumers, especially children and youngsters. The hotter the weather, the greater the demand and brisker the sales! But what we tend to forget or overlook is the fact that the ingredients in these beverages have been shown to have disastrous side effects. Soft drinks obtain nearly all of their food energy in the form of refined cane sugar or corn syrup. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) stated that a 2000-calorie diet contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar, some soft drinks contain more than this amount. Unless fortified, it also contains little to no vitamins, minerals, fibres, proteins and other essential nutrients. Many soft drinks contain food additives such as food colouring, artificial flavouring, emulsifiers and preservatives. Moreover, major soft drink companies have had documentation of benzene contamination in their drinks since at least the 1990s and it is known that benzene is a carcinogen, or cancer-causing agent.

In the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Michael Murray and Joseph Pizzorno state that soft drinks have long been suspected of leading to lower calcium levels and higher phosphate levels in the blood. When phosphate levels are high and calcium levels are low, calcium is pulled out of the bones. The phosphate content in the most popular soft drinks has been known to be very high, and they contain virtually no calcium. They added "Soft drink consumption in children poses a significant risk factor for impaired calcification of growing bones." James A Howenstine M.D suggests the same thing in A Physician's Guide to Natural Health Products That Work. According to him soft drinks contain large quantities of phosphorus, which when excreted pulls calcium out of the bones. Therefore heavy users of soft drinks are prone to have osteoporosis along with their damaged arteries. In "Food Politics:

How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health" (California Studies in Food and Culture), Marion Nestle mentions, "Adolescents who consume soft drinks display a risk of bone fractures three to four-fold higher than those who do not."

If you happen to think that diet drinks may be better for your health you need to think again. Dr. Earl Mindell, in his book, Earl Mindell's New Vitamin Bible, says, saccharin, which is a noncaloric petroleum derivative estimated to be 300 to 500 times sweeter than sugar, is used in diet soft drinks and studies done back in the 1970s linked saccharin ingestion to bladder cancer in laboratory mammals. In addition, “Aspartame” is a chemical used as a sugar substitute in diet soda. There are over 92 different health side effects associated with aspartame consumption including brain tumours, birth defects, diabetes, emotional disorders and epilepsy/seizures. Further more when aspartame is stored for long periods of time or kept in warm areas it changes to methanol, an alcohol that converts to formaldehyde and formic acid, which are known carcinogens.

Dr. Mindell warns people over age 40 to be extra cautious, as these beverages can be especially hazardous for the kidneys which are less able to excrete excess phosphorus at this age, causing depletion of vital calcium. The writer also mentions that heavy soft drink consumptions can interfere with your body's metabolisation of iron and diminish nerve impulse transmission, and that cola drinks can interact adversely with antacids, possibly causing constipation, calcium loss, hypertension, nausea, vomiting, headaches and kidney damage.

It is therefore imperative that we watch our intake of soft drinks; high in phosphorous and phosphoric acid, they infiltrate bodily fluids and corrode stomach linings, upset the alkaline-acid balance of the kidneys, and eat away our liver. Carbonated drinks contain hidden caffeine, refined sugar and artificial chemicals, and these things can never be beneficial to our bodies.

Sugar and acid in soft drinks can easily dissolve tooth enamel, meaning significant amounts of sugar as well as high acid levels can potentially damage teeth. Drinking through a straw is often advised by dentists as the drink is then swallowed from the back of the mouth and does not come into contact with the teeth. Brushing teeth right after drinking soft drinks should be avoided as this can result in additional erosion of the teeth due to the presence of acid. Kids and teens should be more careful as they are more susceptible to decay from soft drinks because their tooth enamel is not fully developed. According to many doctors it is vital to remain adequately hydrated during the summer months and the best way to do this is with water.

Carbonated drinks are fast replacing other healthier and better choices in people's diet such as milk, fresh juice and even water. We need to be aware and tutor children to be cautious too. Parents need to encourage their kids to go for nutritious drinks in schools and at home, this could be done if they can set good examples by choosing to drink healthier alternatives themselves. Schools and education centres can obviously help in this matter.

If knowledge is power, than we need to empower as many people as possible on the age old saying - Health is Wealth! Thus, the next time you find yourself pining for a carbonated drink, remember a bottle of clean and clear water is what will keep you healthy and hydrated!


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