Soda is synonymous with America. After all, Coca-Cola essentially created the modern depiction of Santa Claus. Ironically, though, vast portions of the country don’t even call it “soda.”
Carbonated, flavored beverages of all kinds are usually referred to as “coke” in the Southern states, while it’s common to call soda “pop” in the midwestern regions. Regardless of what it’s called, soda has been a major part of American diets for decades.
While U.S. soda consumption stats have been declining in recent years, in 2018 the average American still drank an absolutely astounding 38.87 gallons of soda over the course of the calendar year. That’s a whole lot of pop.
It’s no secret that America has an obesity problem. It’s estimated that over 41% of U.S. adults are obese, and soda is a major contributor to that statistic. The vast majority of non-diet sodas available on store shelves today are filled with way too much sugar, caffeine, and empty calories.
“Healthy adults should be striving for intakes of less than 50 grams total added sugar a day and less than 300 milligrams total caffeine a day (less than 200 milligrams if you are pregnant). Unfortunately, most regular sodas have around 40 grams added sugar per 12-ounce can,” explains dietitian Molly Hembree.
It’s worth noting that habitually drinking soda may spell trouble for far more than just your waistline. There’s no shortage of scientific research linking soda to other major health issues. This study, published in the British Medical Journal, reports sugary drinks may increase cancer risk. Meanwhile, this project published in Stroke points to a link between diet sodas and dementia.
One study published in JAMA Internal Medicine really cuts to the chase, concluding that the consumption of both sugary and artificially sweetened beverages is associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality. In other words, if you drink a lot of soda you’re more likely to die.
The fact of the matter is that if you’re looking for a healthy beverage, you probably shouldn’t walk down the soda aisle at all. That being said, certain soda brands are worse than others—and we’re not just talking about sugar or calories.
“Many sodas contain synthetic added colors, preservatives for flavor and color, and flavor enhancers, which are not helpful to our health but do provide a function for making the quality consistent in these beverages,” adds Hembree.
Read on to learn about the soda brands you should stay away from right now!
Did you know that long before the soda commandeered the name, “Mountain Dew” used to be a nickname for moonshine? The soda version of Mountain Dew may be healthier than moonshine, but that’s not much of an accomplishment.
Right off the bat, Mountain Dew stands out from other sodas due to its neon yellow/green color. This soda looks anything but natural, and that’s because it’s not. Mountain Dew gets its almost electric coloring from a food dye called tartrazine, or yellow 5. Back in the 1990s, there was a fairly popular rumor that tartrazine was awful for male fertility, but that turned out to be nothing more than an urban legend.
Still, there are a number of real problems connected with yellow 5. It’s been linked to multiple concerning issues among children; from hyperactivity to eczema. Tartrazine has also shown carcinogenic properties. Products containing yellow 5 must include a warning label in the European Union, and Norway and Austria have even banned the ingredient completely.
Mountain Dew claims the top spot on this list for another stomach-churning reason: It’s acidic enough to dissolve a mouse’s entire body. How in the world do we know this? Well, Pepsi (Mountain Dew’s producer) used that statement as a legal defense. In 2009, a man sued Pepsi after claiming to have discovered a mouse’s carcass in his can of Mountain Dew.
In response, Pepsi claimed that never could have happened because “the mouse would have dissolved in the soda had it been in the can from the time of its bottling until the day the plaintiff drank it.” The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court.
Mountain Dew has an acidic pH level of 3, which is just two levels weaker than literal battery acid (pH 1).
Pibb Xtra has undergone a number of transformations and name changes over the decades (Mr. Pibb, anyone?), but many of the unhealthy components have remained consistent.
The classic Pepsi flavor may be beloved by many—but that doesn’t mean it’s particularly good for you.
Besides the obvious concerns associated with caffeine, sugar, and way too much high fructose corn syrup, Pepsi contains phosphoric acid. Why is that worth mentioning? Phosphoric acid is routinely used in rust removers and a number of household cleaning products.
Pepsi also contains caramel coloring, which has been linked to cancer, hypertension, and even a lower white blood cell count. The state of California even deemed 4-MEL (a byproduct of caramel coloring) a carcinogen about a decade ago.
On an especially bizarre note, Pepsi (and a few other sodas) was once used as a pesticide by farmers in India. Before you go and call poison control, keep in mind that all of the sugar in Pepsi was probably just attracting nearby insects that went on to kill the even smaller larvae damaging the farmers’ crops. Still, the terms pesticide and soft drink should never go hand in hand.
An investigation by Boston University published in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that both Coca-Cola and Pepsi sponsored close to 100 national health organizations between 2011 and 2015. Coke also spent six million dollars on lobbying efforts between 2011-2014 (Pepsi spent $3 million). Moreover, Coke and Pepsi lobbied against at least 28 different public health bills focusing on lowering public soda consumption and/or improving nutrition.
All in all, 96 health organizations took money from either Coke or Pepsi during the studied period, with 83 taking funds from Coca-Cola only.
“The soda companies can neutralize potential legislative opposition by invoking reciprocity and financial dependence from national health organizations,” says lead study author Daniel Aaron in a press release. “Rather than supporting public health, organizations may become unwitting partners in a corporate marketing strategy that undermines public health.”
Additionally, Coca-Cola was sued in the fall of 2020 for its plastic pollution by the Earth Island Institute and Plastic Pollution Coalition. Break Free From Plastic also named Coca-Cola the biggest plastic polluter on the planet in 2019.
Like many other soda brands, Sun Drop contains sodium benzoate, yet another preservative that has shown serious carcinogenic properties, immune system weakening tendencies, and a penchant for promoting hyperactivity in adolescents.
But that’s not all: Sun Drop also contains brominated vegetable oil (BVO). BVO serves as an emulsifier, making sure the ingredients in the soda stay mixed together properly. So, what’s the big deal? Well, for starters BVO is banned as a food additive across a large portion of the globe (Europe, Japan) – but not the good ol’ USA!
This synthetic chemical is woefully understudied, so we’re still only scratching the surface of its potential health impact on humans. That said, one of its main ingredients (bromine) has been linked to a plethora of scary health developments like headaches, skin problems, and even memory loss. What we do know is that ingesting BVO results in lingering pieces of residue within body fat found in the brain, liver, and other organs.
You would have to drink over two liters of soda containing BVO per day to be at serious risk of bromine buildup in your body, but the point still stands.
BVO actually used to be much more common in sodas. Around 2013-2014 both Coca-Cola and Pepsi pledged to remove BVO from all of their beverages (yet it took until 2020 to see the ingredient finally be taken out of Mountain Dew).
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