How soft are soft drinks?
Pesticides or no pesticides, carbonated drinks are still playing havoc with human health the world over. They contain such lethal ingredients, which assuredly take us towards diabetes, insomnia and cancer. We give truly soft, safe and refreshing options to steer clear of the fizzes. The choice is yours
The only positive aspect of the Centre for Science and Environment report on pesticides in soft drinks is that this industry came under countrywide focus and scrutiny. The media, the government and the public, all took notice of the CSE findings.
However, sadly, and ironically, the focus was way off the mark. The issue here is not whether pesticide traces were found in the soft drinks samples. It is irrelevant, since the culprit here is the underground water, whose source is contaminated by extensive and mindless use of chemicals and pesticides in farming. So the actual culprit is faulty policies.
But steering clear of the controversy right now, let us come to the real issue—which is, pesticides or no pesticides, soft drinks are still playing havoc with human health. And it is a hydra-headed monster. Unlike cancer or AIDS, which at least show some signs of their manifestation at some stage, cola-intake strikes silently and invisibly. The manifestation would be years later, and culmination would be in the form human system failure at multiple levels.
Let us take a candid look at what colas and other fizzes do to the human body, or could do to any living organism, for that matter.
In very general terms, carbonated drinks take a healthy human body towards diabetes, osteoporosis, increased risk of heart disease, kidney stones formation in men and, even, cancer.
Now let us see how the key ingredients in cola drinks and other fizzes wreck havoc on our body organs and speed up the movement towards degenerative diseases.
Studies have shown that aerated or carbonated drinks hinder the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the body. A huge amount of soda and refined sugar contained in these drinks are known to have caused lowering of calcium and phosphorus levels. Calcium is responsible for the strength and hardness of bones and teeth, and it reacts with sodium and potassium to promote normal action of the heart muscle to maintain a steady and rhythmic beat. It also helps in the clotting of blood, besides playing a very important role in many other crucial body functions.
Phosphorus helps in maintaining the neutrality of blood and it reacts with other nutrients carbohydrates, proteins and fats to provide heat energy and the necessary material needed for body’s proper growth and maintenance.
Both calcium and phosphorus are absolutely essential for proper regulation and coordination of body functions. An important point to remember is that even if we add heavy supplements of calcium to our diets, it is useless if we are consuming carbonated drinks; they will just not allow the body to absorb these key ingredients. Thus will develop conditions like osteoporosis, rickets, menstrual disorders in women and various other ailments.
According to more than 40 scientific studies in the US—outlined in a 70-page petition filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)—in addition to the effects on reproduction like miscarriages etc, caffeine, a key ingredient in soft drinks, contributes to decreased bone density and osteoporosis. No wonder, since it increases the excretion of calcium in urine
Caffeine can also cause nervousness, anxiety, irritability, (insomnia sleeplessness), behavioural effects, and rapid heart beat. Its consumption by children makes them restless and fidgety and they also develop headaches. Worse, caffeine’s addictiveness keeps people hooked to soft drinks and other caffeine-containing beverages. Those addicted to them suffer withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of consumption, which impairs their attention span and performance.
Carbonated drinks are the single biggest source of refined sugars. More so in the US, where, according to dietary surveys, soda pop provides the average American with seven teaspoons of sugar per day, out of a total of 20 teaspoons. Sadly, no such studies are undertaken in India, so we can never truly assess the extent of the malaise.
Cola is a highly concentrated sugar solution, which leads to increased water excretion. Furthermore, cola increases diarrheic potassium loss because it encourages renal potassium excretion.
In diet sodas, artificial sweeteners have raised concerns. Saccharin, which has been replaced by aspartame in all but a few brands, has been linked in human studies to urinary-bladder cancer and in animal studies to cancers of the bladder and other organs. Several cancer experts have questioned the safety of acesulfame-K, which was approved in the US in 1998 for use in soft drinks.
According to the key findings of a CSPI report, two artificial sweeteners used in aerated drinks — acesulfame-K, used in the new Pepsi One (not marketed in India yet), and saccharin — are worrisome and may promote cancer.
Thus we can see that every soft drink consumer is a potential diabetic; though his consumption levels dictate when his time comes.
Several additives used in soft drinks cause occasional allergic reactions. Yellow dye causes asthma and a runny nose. A natural red colouring, cochineal (and its close relative carmine), causes life-threatening reactions. Dyes can cause hyperactivity in sensitive children.
In the ’70’s, the American Family Physician journal placed cola and chocolate among the 10 food items that caused the most allergies. It recorded that symptoms such as headache, migraine, asthma, gastrointestinal disorders, hay fever and eczema might indicate a cola allergy.
Research has reported damage to the genetic make up of liver cells in mice after drinking cola instead of water for an extended period of up to four weeks. The type of DNA damage that occurs is considered to be a crucial step in the development of cancer and is still discussed as one probable cause of cardiovascular disease. Some extracts in colas can literally harm genes.
Hundreds of studies have proven soft drinks’ detrimental effect on teeth. The combination of sugar and acids—like phosphoric acid in cola—triggers tooth loss and tooth decay.
And then, we have the problem of obesity, the bane of the modern life style, sweeping across continents. Studies in the US have already indicated the link of obesity in the country to high intake of sugar through carbonated drinks. Obesity not just increases the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but has also been a cause of severe social and psychological problems in millions of Americans. Indians are also catching up.
It is only recently that studies have focused on the effects of extremely high levels of aluminium in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, indicating a connection between aluminum packaging and Alzheimer’s disease. The oxidized cover of canned pop, especially cola, is not good enough to withstand the forces of citric or phosphoric acid, common ingredients in soft drinks.
Colas suppress the appetite and are often used by anorexics. Bulimic patients use them to induce vomiting. Patients look for the serotonin ‘good mood’ feeling they get after a couple of colas. Sugar and caffeine in soft drinks increase levels of serotonin in the blood. Serotonin is a physiological ‘happy mood’ facilitator.
Let us also not forget that soft drinks do not have any nutrition value in terms of vitamins and minerals. In fact carbonated drinks can alter the pH of the stomach, which is bad for digestion, and will thus hamper absorption of nutrients from any other healthy foods that we eat.
It is unimaginable what parents are doing to their children’s health as they indifferently look on as their kids guzzle down more and more of these deadly drinks. I shudder to think what must be happening in the insides of tiny tots whose transition from milk bottle to cola bottle went unnoticed. Worse, a majority of the populace all over the world actually consider these drinks safe and fun! There is practically no effort to make the people aware about what the truth is.
However, common sense says that we do not focus on the seesaw motion created by studies that accuse-vindicate-accuse soft drinks in the role they play in undermining human health. Also, do not consider rasna, squashes and packed juices as an easy option, since none of them are nutritious (whatever the manufacturers’ claims) or health promoting. And they also contain synthetic colours, additives and antioxidants, which, in the long run, will produce physical conditions those similar to aerated drinks, though not in as lethal forms.
Wisdom lies in looking at something, which is not just more refreshing, but also nourishing and health building. India has more than a generous share in world’s traditional homemade cool and refreshing recipes.
Since my family and I have ‘never’ indulged the colas industry, we always greet our guests with the respect they deserve; we prefer to serve them something that does them no harm.
Here, I share with you some of the drinks that I make at home. Most of them were always prepared in traditional Indian homes. Quite a few I learnt from my grandmother. Others, I picked on the way, and then improvised. I am sure every one of us knows of them, but we have just put them on the back burner, making space for the space-age drinks—the colas and fizzes. This is mainly because we have become slaves of convenience
We owe it to our children and to ourselves that we get introduced to them once again. A little bit of effort today will save us sleepless nights and many a trip to doctors and hospitals later.
One word of caution here. Avoid using refined sugar for these drinks, since it is extremely harmful. I have banished sugar from my home forever. I use khand (palm sugar), jaggery, honey or dates as sweeteners instead. Also, none of the drinks should be had chilled or very cold, since this reduces the efficiency of the digestive enzymes.
Top-of-the-line for me is fresh green coconut water, whenever it is available. Highly alkaline and easy to digest, it has all the properties of a mother’s milk and doctors have known to substitute intra-venous fluids with this divine drink in emergencies.
A hygienically prepared sugarcane juice and melon drinks come next on line, but without any salts and masala. They hinder easy absorption of natural minerals that these juices are rich in.
In summers, my personal favourites are thandai, sattu and aam panna. Jal jeera, nimbu paani and buttermilk come a close second. Plain or salted lassi (diluted and churnedup curd), shikanjavi, aam ras and home made roohafza are other drinks which can replace the notorious pops.
Thandai is made by crushing almonds, melon seeds, a few whole peppers, small cardamom seeds and khaand and adding it to milk, stirring furiously. This is served slightly cold.
Sattu is a one-time popular drink of north India. Now it is mainly consumed by poor villagers. This is all fibre and has all the nutritive values of a whole-grain cereal. In cities it is available in nature shops and health food vending outlets. A very cooling drink in summers, it is stirred in water along with jaggery or khaand.
Aam panna is one beverage no one can resist. Here, tender, green mangoes are first boiled and the pulp extracted. Black rock salt, roasted jeera, crushed mint leaves and jaggery or khaand are then added to it and churned in a mixer. This makes the panna concentrate, which can be bottled and stored in the refrigerator. The desired amount is added to water and had as a refreshing cold drink. This has one disadvantage: its irresistibility makes it an easy prey to predators, and it is smacked off in a day, how much ever you store it.
Aam ras is our own healthy and truly fresh answer to squashes. The pulp of ripened mango is crushed in a mixer and diluted with water to the desired consistency. A dash of sweetener makes it a complete enticer. You can add a bit of powdered small cardamom for that extra flavour. A similar drink can be prepared with litchi, minus the cardamom.
Dates, soaked in water for sometime, and then crushed in mixer along with cardamom seeds makes another sumptuous and nutritious drink. It contains natural sweetener, and water is added to the desired consistency.
One drink, which I vaguely remember (I am sure it would be made in other homes as well, with variations), is adding small cardamom, kewra and a dash of rose water to one part milk diluted with two parts water. Granny made us have it after we kids had sucked into a bucketful of mangoes. To add to it a sweetener or not is a personal choice.
Let me not forget the vegetable juices. From purely health viewpoint, the best drink, even better than coconut water, is petha (sitaphal) juice. Though its taste might not go well with most people, I have seen others having it with much relish. The trick is to use a fully ripened piece; and it is to be consumed the instant you cut it and crush it. In winters, nothing beats carrot juice. But for best absorption, it should be had without mixing anything else with it.
There is also a need to promote fresh fruit juices. Apple, pineapple, orange, mausami, pomegranate, pears—the list is endless. All of these can easily be made at home.
Today, we have a choice: to take a U-turn. Tomorrow, we might hit the dead-end. So make a decisive choice.