Another requested post- this time on Coca-Cola! A warning first though: I do drink and like Coca-Cola, and what I write in this post is not meant to scare you or stop you from drinking it (especially with the chemical names), but to inform you. You are not a good or bad person for choosing what you eat or drink, BUT, please know that anything at all can be good or bad for you, depending on the concentration (even water!). Everything in moderation, brushing your teeth, and exercise to boot, is good!
I am guessing that many of you would have heard that Coca-Cola got it’s name because the original recipe included cocaine. But did you know why? The inventor, Colonel John Pemberton, became addicted to morphine after being wounded in the American Civil War. Even then, it was known that morphine was quite dangerous, and so in his quest to find a safer alternative, he happened across cocaine, and created ‘coca wine’ in 1886, formulated at his local pharmacy in Columbus, Geogia.
All hail John Pemberton, creator of Coca-Cola!
Since then, the recipe has changed greatly, and while you won’t expect to get ‘high’ on Coca-Cola anymore, there is now the replacement ‘sugar high’. A quick look at the Australian Nutrition Information Panel shows us just that:
The Nutrition Information Panels for Coke beverages are provided on their website.
Look at the second column (‘per serving’) on a can of Coke, and note that a serving size is 375 mL (the whole can of drink). For ‘sugars’, you will see 40 g. So, for every can of coca cola you drink, you are ingesting 40 grams of sugar (or just over 2.5 tablespoons).
Of course, many of you are now saying ‘but I drink Diet Coke’, or ‘Coke Zero is much better for you, and that’s why I drink that instead’. It’s true, the Nutrition Information Panels for these ‘diet’ beverages show much less sugar; 0.4g in each (1/100th of that in normal Coke). However, these drinks include other ingredients to keep the sweet taste. These ingredients are sweeteners 950 (acesulfame potassium) and 951 (aspartame), which give you the sweet taste without the calories (because we break them down in our body in a different way to sugars). Diet Coke and Coke Zero also include preservative 211 (sodium benzoate), which helps to prevent bacterial growth in acidic drinks, and food acid 331 or 330, which are different forms of citric acid.
Left to Right: See how different acesulfame potassium and aspartame are to table sugar (sucrose)? This is why they don’t provide calories: we break them down in a different way which doesn’t provide the body with energy.
One thing that is noticeable when comparing the three drinks is that the ‘diet’ beverages have higher levels of sodium; this is most likely because they contain preservative 211 (which contains sodium). Sodium is associated with some common health problems, including high blood pressure (hypertension). Sodium helps to regulate the volume and flow of blood in the human body. This is why we are told not to use too much salt (sodium chloride) in our meals, and to try to avoid processed foods (which are often high in sodium).
The ingredients and Nutrition Information Panels listed on cans.
Common to all three Coke beverages is food acid 338 (phosphoric acid), colour (caramel 150d; I think you can guess what that is for), flavour, and caffeine. You may have already seen my post on caffeine; if not: here it is! While the amount of caffeine is not stated on the label (and legally it doesn’t have to be), I have converted the values from this website to how many mg of caffeine we would see in one can of each drink, to find that Coca-Cola contains around 35.8 mg, Diet Coke 48.9 mg, and Coke Zero 37.8 mg. These values are less than half of what you would find in a cup of coffee (around 100 mg on average).
Another think that we can note with Coca-Cola is that it is quite acidic. This is due to the use of phosphoric acid and citric acid (the food acids shown on the label), as well as the use of carbonated water. In fact, the pH of Coca-Cola is measured as about pH 2.525. While my previous post on acidity assured you that drinking acidic drinks will not change the acidity of your blood, I did mention that “acidic drinks are associated with tooth decay, as they break down the enamel in our teeth”.
Enamel is on the outside, visible section of our teeth, and protects the vulnerable insides!
Enamel is the hardest tissue in the human body (due to its high mineral content), which is helpful considering that we use our teeth to chew and grind food down before swallowing! However, even the toughest human tissues can be broken: acids can eat away at tooth enamel and cause tooth cavities (ouchie!). Even worse is the fact that high-sugar foods and beverages (like cola) are consumed by natural bacteria in our mouths, producing lactic acid (which also increases the adicity of our mouths and affects our enamel). The problem with the loss of enamel is that our body can’t really replace it once it is lost, except partially by re-mineralisation (replacing minerals within your teeth). Yet another reason why Fluoride is not the enemy! Many dentists agree that fluoride within the water supply is very valuable in the remineralisation process.
So, I’m off to drink a can of Coke… and then brush my teeth!