Recent health studies about the dangers of consuming soft drinks have concerned many people, leading to an upsurge in the amount of ‘health’ drinks available. Coca-Cola Life is the major drinks company's most recent foray into this burgeoning health market. With its friendly green label, the beverage is billed as ‘reduced calorie cola’, claiming that it contains 35% fewer calories per fl. oz. than other leading cola products.
Yet, many have retorted that Coca-Cola Life is really just a gimmick, an attempt to fool people (or let people fool themselves) into believing that they can have their cake and eat it too. Here we’ll take a close look at the sugar content, chemical make-up, and processing procedures to find out just how healthy the drink really is.
Though an eight-fluid ounce of Coca-Cola Life contains just 60 calories, its eyebrow-raising 17 grams of sugar means it only has a third less sugar than a regular Coca-Cola drink. If you recall how important a role soft drinks like Coca-Cola have played in the last few decades’ upsurge in obesity (see here for more details), then you’ll be wondering what’s so good about Life’s sugar and calorie count.
Yet it’s not only the amount of sugar in Coke’s new health drink that’s worrying, there are also other chemical factors that make other soft drinks potentially dangerous to our health.
Cancer-Causing Caramel E-150D
Otherwise known as sulfite ammonia caramel, Caramel E-150d is used to color all Coca-Cola drinks, and this does include Coca-Cola Life. The chemical is made through controlled heat treatment of sugar with ammonia (a highly toxic substance used in household cleaners). For foods that contain more than 30 micrograms of this coloring, the State of California now requires cancer-warning labels – and for good reason too.
Michael Jacobson, Executive Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest has said: “We’re asking the FDA to ban the use of caramel coloring that’s used in colas and certain other soft drinks and a variety of other foods. The reason is that several years ago, a government agency, the National Toxicology program, tested a contaminant in the coloring and found that it caused cancer in mice and possibly rats.”
This should give you more than pause for thought the next time you look longingly at a refreshing glass of coke!
Steviol Glycoside: A Natural Sweetener?
Another of Coca-Cola Life’s claims to be healthy derives from its use of stevia, a sweetener that occurs naturally, contains fewer calories than sugar, and none of the chemicals that characterize the controversial aspartame (see here). And though stevia is natural, unfortunately Coca-Cola doesn’t really use it at all.
Instead of stevia, Coca-Cola Life contains steviol glycoside, a highly-processed chemical which may derive from the stevia plant, but really bares little relation to it. And although stevia could contain useful attributes in the fight against diabetes, as some studies have stated, the problem is that Coca-Cola appear to be pulling the wool over our eyes by claiming use of an ‘all-natural’ sweetener, when steviol glycoside is nothing of the kind.
Another problem with Coca-Cola Life is a psychological one. Since the product contains a reduced number of calories, people assume they will consume less calories. Yet this is not necessarily so.
According to Professor Sandra Jones, director of the Centre for Health and Social Research at Australian Catholic University, “A cola drink with [fewer] calories may be part of the problem rather than the answer to reducing our waistlines. People tend to consume greater quantities of foods they believe to be healthy, and seeing a food promoted as healthy can lead people to eat more calories.”
Overall, there is not a great deal of difference between Coca-Cola Life and regular Coca-Cola, though the former does indeed contain less calories. Life is not a more natural alternative, and is not much healthier. The big take home from all of this is that Coca-Cola have not created a wonder drink: a soft drink that tastes just like the real thing but with either no detrimental health effects. The truth is far more sobering:
Coca-Cola Life simply is NOT a healthy drink.
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