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For several years, there has been a virtual war on soda. Health care providers, parents, schools, even politicians have begun to take a stand against the sweet refreshment that many Americans have grown up drinking since childhood. There have been numerous studies done attempting to prove that soft drinks are unhealthy products that can cause an array of health problems, including diabetes, kidney stones, obesity and tooth decay. Some opponents of sugary beverages have even compared soda drinking to cigarette smoking.

Recently, even the mayor of New York City took a stand against the over-consumption of soft drinks by banning the sale of all sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces. It seems that there are a lot of people out there who are convinced that a world without Coca-Cola, Pepsi and similar drinks would be a better world, but what exactly is it about soda that makes it so unhealthy? Let’s take a look at some of the more common ingredients in popular colas and sodas to learn more about their nutritional makeup and how it can affect our health.

Common Ingredients in Coca-Cola and Pepsi Sodas (in alphabetical order)

  • Caffeine: This ingredient is found naturally in the seeds, leaves and fruit of some plants and acts as a natural pesticide. Caffeine can almost be reproduced in a laboratory as a synthetic ingredient. Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola got their names’ from the fact that the kola nut was used to flavor and add caffeine to their beverages. However, neither The Coca-Cola Company nor Pepsico are clear about whether or not they still use natural caffeine in their products. Both natural and synthetic caffeine act as a stimulant in humans. When consumed in moderation, the ingredient is believed to be harmless. Negative effects have been observed, however, especially when consumed in large quantities.
  • Caramel Color: This is a water soluble food coloring that has been used for a very long time to color everything from bread to beer to liquor and cough drops. It is not a natural product and is made by heating carbohydrates, alone or in the presence of acids, alkalis or salts. In colas, caramel color is what gives the product its dark tint. Because many different ingredients can be used to make caramel color, the health effects of the product can vary. In early 2012, the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that the caramel color ingredient in Coco-Cola and Pepsi products was caused cancer in mice. Although the FDA claimed that humans would have to drink more than 1,000 cans of soda a day to see similar results, Coca-Cola decided to switch its caramel color formula. Pepsi did not, stating that the study did not apply to humans.
  • Carbonated Water: This is simply water that contains dissolved carbon dioxide gas under pressure. It’s what makes cola fizzy. Studies have shown that carbonated water can erode tooth enamel. On the plus side, some carbonated drinks have proved to be beneficial in easing the symptoms of indigestion and constipation.
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup: This is a controversial product in and of itself. High fructose corn syrup is produced by milling corn to make corn starch. The starch is then processed into glucose syrup. Enzymes are then added to change some of the glucose into fructose, making the syrup sweeter. Although it originates from a natural product, it is not a natural product, and this is why many consumers are weary about its effects on human health. Some research claims that the wide use of high fructose corn syrup in processed foods has contributed to the rise in cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity in America.
  • “Natural Flavoring”: This is an ingredient that cola companies like to keep secret, because it is what gives their products a unique edge. Most natural flavoring in colas and sodas is made up of oils and extracts from citrus fruits, vanilla, cinnamon and other flavorings produced from natural ingredients.
  • Phosphoric Acid: Phosphoric acid is a mineral acid. As a food ingredient, it is what gives a product its acidic, sour taste. Although citrus juices could provide the same effects naturally, phosphoric acid is used in colas and sodas, because it is cost effective and can be purchased in bulk. Although not conclusive, research has shown that the ingredient can cause osteoporosis. It is also believed that the ingredient is highly damaging to teeth, and some dentists have compared its effects on teeth to battery acid.


After looking at all the research, it seems that we can’t conclusively know if the ingredients in soft drinks always cause the same negative health effects in all drinkers. As with all things, it looks like moderation is the key. However, we do know that soft drinks are both high in calories and sugar; two things that we know for sure aren’t beneficial to our health.

Until there’s more factual information available on the health effects of each ingredient in soda, your best bet is to keep consumption at no more than one soda per day (or less, if you can manage).

Brenda Watson is a researcher/writer for HealthInsuranceQuotes.org. Her articles cover topics ranging from how to find the best insurance for you or your family to advice on personal health and fitness. In her spare time, Brenda enjoys running in the park and watching The X Factor. Feel free to leave your comments and questions for her below!


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