Jamaica Gleaner / Soft drinks consumption dramatically escalates during the festive season. Drinking soft drinks may seem so pleasant and so innocent because this cold, artificially flavoured, sweet liquid with its acidic tang, combined with the tickle of gas bubbles, is carefully designed to seduce and addict the consumer.

According to market surveys, soft drink sales continue to escalate each year, fuelled by aggressive multimillion-dollar advertisement campaigns directed mainly at children and teenagers. In the United States, for example, young males aged 12-29 are the biggest soda consumers, drinking over 160 gallons per year – almost two quarts per day, and the girls are rapidly catching up.

Hundreds of published studies on soft drinks indicate that they are not healthy. If you regularly drink sodas, this holiday season may be the time to put the bottle or can down and take a serious look at what you are consuming.

Parents, this may be the time for you to talk with your kids and change their choice of drinks.

OBESITY/DIABETES/HEART DISEASE There is a significant link between sugary-drink consumption and weight gain in children. One study found that for each additional 12-ounce soda children drink each day, their risk of becoming obese increases by 60 per cent.

Adults and children who consume sugary drinks regularly (one to two cans per day or more) have a 26 per cent greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who rarely have such drinks. Another study found a similar higher risk of having a heart attack, and dying from one.

Cancer: According to research done in Sweden and published in the prestigious American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , men who regularly drink soft drinks or other sugary beverages had a 40 per cent greater risk of developing prostate cancer.

The study further found that drinking just one 12-fluid ounce soft drink per day increased a man’s risk of getting deadlier forms of prostate cancer.

Similarly a high sugar consumption in women increases their risk of developing more aggressive forms of breast cancer. In my opinion, the same type of health warnings that appear on cigarette packages should also appear on soft drink containers.

ANATOMY OF A SOFT DRINK When carefully examined, the ingredients in soft drinks look like a witch’s brew of undesirable chemicals:

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS): This is now the preferred sweetener (instead of cane sugar) in soft drinks, as it is cheaper and sweeter. The liver is the organ that must metabolise the fructose in HFCS, and researchers have found that animals on high-fructose diets develop liver disease, metabolic disorders like diabetes, and high blood cholesterol levels.

Despite loud disclaimers from corn syrup manufacturers, an army of respected experts strongly believes that HFCS consumption is a major promoter of diabetes. HFCS is also associated with the poor development of collagen, a very important structural protein found in all body tissues, especially in the circulatory system, the muscles and skeleton.

Aspartame: This has been the main artificial sweetener used in diet sodas. It has been proven to be a potent neurotoxin (nerve poison) and hormonal disrupter. I agree with experts who state that it should not be allowed in the human food supply.

Caffeine: In the right nutritional context, this compound has the useful ability to stimulate mental alertness and stave off fatigue, but when consumed in soft drinks, it stimulates the adrenal glands without providing any of the nutrients (vitamin and minerals) that the organ needs to function. The combination of caffeine and sugar in the amounts found in soft drinks, without key nutrients, can lead to adrenal exhaustion, especially in children. The mixture of HFCS and caffeine in soft drinks may well be the major cause of the modern epidemic of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder in our children.

Phosphoric acid: This additive gives soft drinks a tang and bite. But this acid may disturb the delicate balance between calcium and phosphorus in the body, and is associated with excess loss of calcium from the urine and weakening of the bones.

For decades, much research has been published linking soft drink consumption to a rise in osteoporosis and bone fractures. With increased soft drink use, dentists have noticed a problem in teenagers that formerly occurred only in the elderly – a total loss of tooth enamel, resulting in yellow teeth. Phosphoric acid in soft drinks is the likely culprit.

Artificial flavours: Citric acid is a flavour enhancer added to further acidify soft drinks. It worsens the effect of phosphoric acid. Traces of the flavour enhancer MSG, another well-known neurotoxin, is also now commonly found in soft drinks.

Caramel: This common artificial colouring agent is used in soft drinks, especially cola drinks. Chronic intake of caramel has been linked to genetic defects and cancer.

Carbon dioxide: This gas is added to soft drinks to produce the bubbly, effervescent effect. Carbon dioxide is a waste product of our body’s metabolism that we naturally expel with each breath we exhale. Why should we be ingesting something that the body is always trying to eliminate? The carbon dioxide levels in your bloodstream powerfully impact the acidity of the body.

Water: This is potentially the healthiest part of the soft drink, although many questions have been raised about the quality of the water used in its manufacture. It is suspected that the producers use the cheapest, and not the healthiest type of water. Also, the water may contain large amounts of fluoride (dissolved from the aluminium lining of the soda can) as well as other harmful contaminants. Soft drinks can indeed deliver a hard knock!

n You may email Dr Vendryes at tonyvendryes

00pm. Visit www.tonyvendryes.com for details on his books and articles.

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