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.
One 12-ounce serving of cola contains:
- Calories: 156
- Protein: 0 grams
- Fat: 0.93 grams
- Carbohydrates: 38.7 grams
- Sugars: 37 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 colas also contain caffeine. One 20-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola contains 57 milligrams of caffeine.
Potential Health Risks of Colas
The health risks associated with drinking colas come from its sugar, which gives your body large amounts of the simple sugar fructose:
Colas significantly contribute to weight gain. Multiple studies report a clear link between soft drink consumption and higher body weight. Research also shows that people tend to drink sugary sodas along with the calories they would otherwise consume. One reason for this is that fructose produces smaller amounts of the hormones that make you feel full. And soft drinks and other liquid carbohydrates also produce less satiety (feeling full) when compared to solid foods.
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.
The amount and location of weight gained from fructose creates its own health risks. Fructose leads to belly fat (visceral fat), which lies in the space between organs, and external fat (subcutaneous fat), which is found just 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.
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 appears before 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%.
Colas and other sugary drinks have been linked to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer. Research also shows that postmenopausal women may be at a greater risk of developing endometrial (or uterine) cancer if they consume colas.
Both the acids and the sugars in soft drinks can contribute to tooth decay and poor oral health.
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 may make you more likely to have gout.
High blood sugar levels have been linked an increased risk of dementia, particularly in the form of Alzheimer’s disease.
Are Alternative Sweeteners OK?
Michael Jacobson, PhD, executive director of the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), suggests that people who drink diet sodas should choose those sweetened with Splenda when possible.
Of the alternative sweeteners used in soda, CSPI gives the "avoid" label to Acesulfame-K, aspartame, and saccharin, but the "appears to be safe" label to sucralose (Splenda). All these sweeteners have received FDA approval. And, in a 100-page report published in Critical Reviews in Toxicology in September, an expert panel said it was confident aspartame poses no health risks. But CSPI believes those on its "avoid" list need more or better testing.
Still, while Jacobson believes "less is better" when it comes to alternative sweeteners, he concedes that drinking diet soda is better than gulping down the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar – which is what you'll get in a can of regular soda.
In 2006, a panel of experts assembled by Barry Popkin, PhD, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, developed the first Healthy Beverage Guidelines, which said people should drink more water and limit or eliminate high-calorie beverages with little or no nutritional value.
But you don't have to cut soda out of your diet entirely. First, know what not to switch to. Sales of sports beverages and "energy drinks" are rising, but those drinks are just as calorie-loaded as Coke and Pepsi. The new beverages may have more added nutrients than soda, but few people need that type of nutrition.
Start slowly by replacing sugared sodas with diet ones. Cut down gradually: Replace one regular soft drink (or one diet soda) per day with an alternative drink. The best choice? Water. But you can try these options, too:
Give soy milk a chance. If you'd like to work in a serving of soy a day, try soy milk. Lots of brands and flavors are available. If calories are an issue, try one of the lower-calorie options.
Don't skimp on skim milk. Skim milk is a great way to boost your intake of protein, calcium, vitamin D, and other important nutrients. One cup of skim milk has only about 85 calories. The Beverage Guidance Panel recommends up to two servings a day of nonfat or 1% milk and fortified soy beverages.
Boost your water. To an avid soda drinker, water can seem unexciting. One of the best ways around that is to add noncaloric flavors to your water. A sprig of mint or a slice of lemon or lemon extract will do wonders. If you like subtler flavors, try a slice or two of cucumber or a frozen strawberry.
Make green or black tea your new drink habit. Popkin says tea is a healthy alternative to water for people who prefer flavored beverages. Tea is calorie-free and contains powerful phytochemicals, like the antioxidant in green tea, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Great-tasting green and black teas abound in supermarkets and specialty stores. If you're cutting back on caffeine, look for caffeine-free teas.
Think outside the juice box. Although 100% fruit or vegetable juice contains important nutrients, the Beverage Guidance Panel recommends having no more than one serving a day because they can also contain plenty of calories (about 100 in 1 cup of fresh orange or carrot juice). One way to cut those calories is by making a homemade juice spritzer: Combine one or two parts seltzer, mineral water, or club soda with one part 100% fruit juice (try fresh orange juice). Or try the new vegetable juice flavors in your supermarket, as well as fruit and vegetable juice blends. While they're not super low in calories, each serving contains a serving of fruit and a serving of vegetable.
Discover the coffee cure. For java lovers, coffee can be a calorie-free, flavorful alternative to soda. And you can easily find lower-caffeine coffees in coffee shops and supermarkets. But to keep coffee low-calorie, be sure to keep it simple – skip the syrups, whipped cream, and whole milk.
Make good old H2O convenient. The Beverage Guidance Panel recommends at least four servings a day of water for women and at least six servings for men. When you need to quench your thirst or hydrate your body, nothing does it better than water. If cold, refreshing water was more convenient, and if we were reminded to drink it during our day, a lot more people would reach this daily goal. So keep water bottles ready to go in your refrigerator, and every time you leave the house, take a bottle with you. If chilled water is sitting in your car or on your desk at work, you'll be more likely to get into the water-drinking habit.