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Drinking Cola: Is It Good for You?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 22, 2020

Colas, also known as sodas, soft drinks, cokes, pops, and soda pops, are a sweetened, flavored, and carbonated soft drink. Most colas contain caffeine and are sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Cola dates back to 1886, the year that John Pemberton invented coca cola, which was quickly imitated by other companies. Today, the two most popular cola companies are Coca-Cola and Pepsi with over 2,800 cola products available in over 200 countries.

Nutrition Information

One 8-ounce serving of cola contains:

  • Calories: 101
  • Protein: 0 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 26 grams
  • Sugars: 26 grams

Most cans of soda contain 12 ounces of liquid, or one and a half servings. Additionally, the majority of colas do not contain major minerals or vitamins. The Coca-Cola label states “*Not a significant source of saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium”.

Many types of cola also contain caffeine. One 20 ounce bottle of Coca-Cola contains 54 mg of caffeine. 

Potential Health Benefits of Colas

The health risks associated with drinking colas comes from its added sugar, which supplies your body with large amounts of the simple sugar, fructose

Weight Gain

Colas significantly contribute towards weight gain. Multiple studies report a clear association between soft drink consumption and increased body weight. Research also shows that people tend to drink sugary sodas in addition to the calories they would otherwise consume. One reason for this is that fructose produces smaller amounts of the hormones that make you feel full. Furthermore, soft drinks and other liquid carbohydrates also produce less satiety when compared to solid foods.

Sugar Addiction

Sugar may be addictive, particularly to people with other forms of addiction. Some of the same parts of the brain that are involved when a person abuses drugs are also involved when you eat, allowing for the creation of addiction-like signals when you ingest certain foods.

Early studies conducted with rats have demonstrated that sugar bingeing can lead to the same signs of dependence that opiates do. However, scientists disagree as to whether sugar should be considered a potential addiction as more human testing is needed.

Belly Fat

The amount and location of weight gained from consuming fructose creates its own health risks. Fructose leads to belly or abdominal fat (visceral fat), which occupies the space between organs, and external fat (subcutaneous fat), which is found right under the skin. Even if you are otherwise at a healthy weight, belly fat can be dangerous, increasing the likeliness of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and breast cancer.

Metabolic Syndrome and Diabetes

Consuming too much fructose may lead to insulin resistance, a feature of metabolic syndrome. You may become less sensitive to the hormone insulin, which clears sugar from your blood.

Metabolic syndrome frequently precedes the development of type 2 diabetes, another danger linked to sugary drinks. Even one or two colas a day could increase your risk of type 2 diabetes by more than 20%.

Heart Disease

Sugar intake is linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and excess fat, all of which increase the risk of heart disease.

Cancer 

Colas and other sugary drinks have been linked to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer. Research aslso shows that p ostmenopausal women may be at a greater risk of developing endometrial (or uterine) cancer if they consume colas.

Tooth Decay

Both the acids and the sugars present in soft drinks can contribute to tooth decay and poor oral health.

Gout

Gout is a type of arthritis that results from a buildup of uric acid, which causes crystals to form in your joints. Fructose is known to increase uric acid levels, and high levels of fructose indicate a corresponding likelihood of developing gout.

Dementia

High blood sugar levels have been correlated with an increased risk of dementia, particularly in the form of Alzheimer’s disease.

Healthier Alternatives

The next time you want something to drink other than water, try one of these healthier alternatives:

Flavored Sparkling Water

If it’s carbonation you crave, try sparkling water. You can have it with or without added flavor. Many brands of naturally flavored, sugar-free sparkling water are readily available commercially.

Juice

Juice can come with its own health risks related to its sugary contents. However, if you do need a sweet beverage, juice can provide some vitamins and nutrients.

Iced Tea

If it’s the caffeine you need, try a glass of iced tea. Flavor it with lemon or a tiny splash of juice to keep the sugar content low. If it’s still not sweet enough, use stevia or natural sweeteners such as honey or maple syrup.

Show Sources

SOURCES: 

American Journal of Public Health: “Effects of Soft Drink Consumption on Nutrition and Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.”

BMJ Open: “Fructose intake and risk of gout and hyperuricemia: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies.”

The BMJ: “Consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, artificially sweetened beverages, and fruit juice and incidence of type 2 diabetes: systematic review, meta-analysis, and estimation of population attributable fraction.”

Britannica: “The Coca-Cola Company.”

Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention: “Soft Drink and Juice Consumption and Risk of Pancreatic Cancer: The Singapore Chinese Health Study.”

Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention: “Sugar-sweetened beverage intake and the risk of type I and type II endometrial cancer among postmenopausal women.”

Circulation: “Consumption of added sugars and indicators of cardiovascular disease risk among US adolescents.”

Coca-Cola: “Nutrition Facts.”

Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care: “Effects of carbohydrates on satiety: differences between liquid and solid food.”

Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care: “High-sugar diets, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care: “Neurobiology of food addiction.”

Diabetes Care: “Moderate Amounts of Fructose Impair Insulin Sensitivity in Healthy Young Men.”

Diabetes Care: “Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis.”

European Journal of Nutrition: “Sugar addiction: the state of the science.”

Harvard Health: “Abdominal fat and what to do about it.”

Journal of the American Medical Association: “Effects of fructose vs glucose on regional cerebral blood flow in brain regions involved with appetite and reward pathways.”

Journal of Nutrition: “Greater Fructose Consumption Is Associated with Cardiometabolic Risk Markers and Visceral Adiposity in Adolescents.”

Journal of Zhejiang University Science B: “Dental erosion and severe tooth decay related to soft drinks: a case report and literature review.”

Methods in Molecular Biology: Animal models of sugar and fat bingeing: relationship to food addiction and increased body weight.”

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Soft drinks, aspartame, and the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.”

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