A soft drink usually contains carbonated water (although some vitamin waters and lemonades are not carbonated), a sweetener, and a natural or artificial flavouring substance. The sweetener may be a sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice, a sugar substitute (in the case of diet drinks), or some combination of these. Soft drinks may also contain caffeine, preservatives, and/or other ingredients. Soft drinks are called “soft” in contrast with “hard” alcoholic drinks. Small amounts of alcohol may be present in a soft drink, but the alcohol content must be less than 0.5% of the total volume of the drink in many countries and localities if the drink is to be considered non-alcoholic. Fruit punch, tea, and other such non-alcoholic drinks are technically soft drinks by this definition, but are not generally referred to as such. Unsweetened sparkling water may be consumed as an alternative to soft drinks. Soft drinks may be served chilled, over ice cubes, or at room temperature, especially soda. They are available in many container formats, including cans, glass bottles, and plastic bottles. While the term “soft drink” is commonly used in product labelling and on restaurant menus, due to the high sugar content typical of them, they may also be called sugary drinks.
Carbonated drinks are beverages that contain dissolved carbon dioxide. The dissolution of CO2 in a liquid gives rise to fizz or effervescence. The process usually involves dissolving carbon dioxide under high pressure. When the pressure is removed, the carbon dioxide is released as small bubbles, which causes the solution to become effervescent. Carbon dioxide is only weakly soluble in water, therefore it separates into a gas when the pressure is released. Carbonated beverages are prepared by mixing flavoured syrup with carbonated water. Carbonation levels range up to 5 volumes of CO2 per liquid volume. Ginger ale, colas, and related drinks are carbonated with 3.5 volumes. Other drinks, often fruity ones, are carbonated less.
Impact on Health
People who regularly consume soft drinks have a higher risk of an early death, researchers have found, with the trend seen for both sugared and artificially sweetened drinks. Once factors such as body mass index, diet, physical activity, smoking and education are taken into account, it translates to a 17% higher risk of death among those consuming two glasses a day compared with those drinking less than one glass a month. While sugary drinks have previously been linked to obesity, the researchers say that it did not fully explain the association of high consumption with an increased risk of death. Soft drinks overall were also associated with a greater risk of death from Parkinson’s disease.
Presence of Heavy Metals in Soft Drinks
Lead and other heavy metals like Cadmium and Chromium have been found in the samples of five different soft drinks manufactured by two major multinational companies in India. The presence of Cadmium and Chromium was due to leaching of toxins from the PET bottles in which they were packaged. The Indian Drug Technical Advisory Board found five different toxins in aerated drinks produced by two major multinational companies in India.
Permanent Damage to Teeth
Drinks that are high in acidity can be harmful for children’s teeth. The acid present in soft drinks, fruit juices and other sugary and aerated drinks can cause permanent damage to their teeth. Technically it is called ‘high acidity triple threat’ that can have long-term effects on growing children. Besides this, tooth grinding and acidic reflux can also affect dental health. Often, children and adolescents grind their teeth at night, and they can have undiagnosed regurgitation or reflux, which brings with it acidity from the stomach. Combined with drinks high in acidity, this creates a triple threat to young people’s teeth which can cause long-term damage. A balance needs to be maintained between acids and host protection in our mouth. Once the balance shifts in favour of acids, irrespective of the type, negative effects are bound to occur. A study suggests that permanent damage to the tooth enamel can be caused within the first 30 seconds of consuming an acidic soft drink. Most of us would think that cleaning our teeth could protect them but we fail to understand that the damage is already done. Dental erosion is one of the major concerns and the day to day consumption of such drinks can lead to irreversible damage to teeth. In most cases, it is detected after substantial wear and tear has already occurred. Research suggests that such drinks are best avoided. It is suggested that even fresh fruits are also acidic, but still a healthier option.
Bone density and Bone Loss
Drinking soft drinks correlates with a decrease in milk consumption along with calcium, protein and other micronutrients. Phosphorus, a micronutrient, can be found in cola-type drinks but there may be a risk in consuming too much. Phosphorus and calcium are used in the body to create calcium-phosphate, which is the main component of bone. However, the combination of too much phosphorus with too little calcium in the body can lead to a degeneration of bone mass. Research suggests a statistically significant inverse relationship between consumption of carbonated drinks and bone mineral density in young girls, which places them at increased risk of fractures. The phosphoric acid contained in some soft drinks (colas) displaces calcium from the bones, lowering bone density of the skeleton and leading to weakened bones, or osteoporosis.
It is well known fact that higher fluid intake reduces the risk of incident and recurrent kidney stones. The relation between fluid intake and kidney stones depends on the type of beverage consumed. Higher consumption of sugar-sweetened soda is associated with a higher incidence of kidney stones, which may be because of the fructose content. Fructose has been shown to increase the urinary excretion of calcium oxalate and uric acid, thus increasing the risk of stones. Artificially sweetened sodas were marginally associated with kidney stones, with an inverse relation for colas and a direct relation for non-colas.
According to a judgment of the Supreme Court of India on soft drinks, dated 22/10/2013 in the matter of Centre for Public Interest Litigation Vs Union of India and Others, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has been directed to rigorously monitor manufacturing of soft drinks. The petition had asked for the setting up of a separate committee to evaluate the alleged harmful effects of soft drinks. The plea had alleged that the ingredients of carbonated drinks have “serious deleterious effects on human health” and no action has been taken to test and assess the risk posed by such beverages. The court asked the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India to constitute independent scientific panels to look into the ingredients.
It can be difficult to kick the habit of drinking soft drinks every day, but it can be easier when there are alternatives to replace it with. The best alternatives can be
1. Iced Tea: Iced tea can be great to drink when you’re craving for soft drinks because of how sweet it is. It’s sweet enough to satisfy your sugar cravings but doesn’t contain as much sugar as soft drinks. It also has caffeine to give you an extra boost during the day. Of course, it’s best to enjoy iced tea unsweetened if you really want to decrease your sugar intake. You can enjoy any kind of tea that you prefer, such as green, herbal or black. Making your own iced tea is a great way to control the amount of sugar in the drink — use honey instead of sugar to make it even healthier.
2. Iced Coffee: If you prefer to have coffee over tea, iced coffee can be a great drink to have when you’re craving a soft drink. As long as you make sure you’re not adding tons of sugar to the coffee, iced coffee can be a refreshing drink to enjoy on a hot day (or whenever). Coffee will give you a better caffeine boost than soda, which will perk you up and help you focus.
3. Water: This may seem like an obvious alternative, but honestly, nothing is healthier than a plain glass of water. It may not have the sweetness or the fizz that’s associated with soft drink, but it is more refreshing and is generally easily accessible. This drink may not be the best choice when you first begin to wean yourself off of soft drink as the taste is dramatically different, but it can be something to work up to.
4. Homemade Smoothies: I specify homemade because some store-bought smoothies are loaded with added sugar, so making your own is better because you know exactly what goes into it. The sweetness from the smoothie may help with the soft drink cravings and helps you get in your daily servings of fruit and vegetables. Making your own smoothies allows you to get creative and use whatever your heart desires to form your favourite flavour.
5. Coconut Water: Coconut water can be a great alternative to soft drink because it’s very refreshing and sweet. However, make sure to buy coconut water that has no added sugar in it (directly from the coconut is best). Adding too much sugar to the water defeats the purpose of its healthy benefits, like the electrolytes that can help to rehydrate and restore balance to your body on a hot summer day. It can be hard to stop drinking soft drink once you get into the habit of drinking it every day but with this list of drinks to drink when you’re craving soft drinks; it gets a little bit easier.
—The writer is Advisor to Government of Madhya Pradesh, Public Food Systems and Consumers Affairs, AIGGPA, Bhopal.