What’s REALLY in That Soda You’re Drinking?

This morning, I saw a post on Facebook talking about the fact that most people don’t know Mountain Dew contains brominated vegetable oil (BVO), a toxic chemical that’s banned in many countries.  However, BVO is found in about 10 percent of sodas in the United States.  It seems like lately there’s been much publicity about the fact that U.S. food and drink manufacturers are putting a lot of crap (for lack of better word) in their products without us really realizing it.  By “crap,” I mean toxic chemicals that can be detrimental to our health, and not necessarily only in large quantities.  (There’s also been a lot of publicity about the prevalence of such conditions as cancer, diabetes, neurosis, etc.  Coincidence?  Probably not.)

This Facebook post got me a-thinkin’.  I always hear about how “bad” soda is for you– for-this-reason or for-that-reason.  Too much sugar.  Too many calories.  No nutritional value.  etc. etc.  Lately I’ve been hearing more  about the harmful dyes and chemicals used in soda.  Too much sugar is one thing; too many calories is another; lack of nutritional value is yet another.  But add them all together, like the soda manufacturers do, and that sounds like a recipe for bodily disaster.  I’ve never actually put all of the research together or looked at a soda label myself to see what all it contains.

So, this morning, I did.

And here’s a summary of the more questionable things that I found.

Mountain Dew Ingredients

Calories.  First let’s look at the calorie count in a bottle Mountain Dew.  110 calories in a serving– sounds like an “ok” treat, every once in a while.  But each bottle contains 2.5 servings– a fact that many soda drinkers may not even be aware of– which is a whopping 290 calories.  That’s more like the amount of calories in a small meal, in addition to the calories in the meals we’re already eating during the day.  48% of Americans drink a bottle of soda every day.  So, for half of us, that’s an extra 105,850 calories (or 30 POUNDS) a year.  VERDICT:  THUMBS DOWN 

Sugars.  Okay, I think we all know that most Americans consume more sugar than the body could ever possibly need.  A bottle of Mountain Dew gets pretty much all of its calories from its sugar content.  This means that the calories in a bottle of soda are “empty,” or that they provide virtually no nutritional value.  This is dangerous to the diet.  Equally (if not more so) dangerous to the diet is the fact that the source of sugars found in soda is even more harmful than the sugar you have in your kitchen cupboard at home.  See below.  VERDICT: THUMBS DOWN.

HFCS - Poison for Your Body

HFCS – Poison for Your Body

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  If you haven’t already heard about the health dangers of consuming HFCS, you should.  I could write a book on the research that’s been done showing the negative effects HFCS has on the human body (in addition to the incentives manufacturers have to use it in their products), but I’ll try to keep it brief.  Soda is sweetened by HFCS.  High fructose corn syrup is similar to table sugar (sucrose) in that they are both composed of the simple sugars fructose and glucose (although neither of them are ideal for the body).  The molecular structure of HFCS, however, causes the body to metabolize it into fat much more quickly than other sugars.   You can imagine the far-reaching effects of HFCS consumption in excess (HFCS is the #1 source of calories in the U.S.– mostly due to our soda drinking problem) coupled with the fact that it turns into fat quickly.  This leads to obestity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and so on.  2/3 of Americans are either overweight or obese, and high fructose corn syrup is a major culprit.  With HFCS as the 2nd ingredient listed on the label, soda is damaging Americans’ bodies in more ways than one.  This is bad stuff.  I’ll stop there and let you do the research.  VERDICT: THUMBS (WAY) DOWN.

Natural flavors.  Don’t let the word “natural” fool you– the FDA defines “natural flavor” as “…the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolystate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf of similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”  Natural flavors could possibly be derived from plants or animals that were grown with pesticides, hormones, and the like, thus passing these substances into your body disguised as “natural” flavors.  I didn’t find much conclusive evidence as to the safety of natural flavors, however, so I can’t say for sure whether or not they are safe to consume.  I’m just throwing up a caution flag with this one– don’t assume something is “healthy” just because it’s “natural.”  VERDICT: NEUTRAL.

Calcium disodium EDTA is not only used as a preservative in soda, it’s also an FDA-approved chelating agent (which means it is used to remove lead and other heavy metal toxins from the body).  The FDA limits the amounts of EDTA that are allowed in certain types of foods.  Studies suggest that larger amounts of EDTA can be mild skin irritants and severe eye irritants.  Rats administered larger amounts of EDTA exhibited signs of growth retardation and diarrhea.  You can read more about the studies here.  Although small amounts of EDTA are considered safe for consumption, the fact that larger amounts can have adverse physical effects doesn’t leave me very trusting of the ingredient itself.  VERDICT: THUMBS DOWN (for me, at least).

Brominated vegetable oil (BVO).  The EU as well as Japan have both banned this ingredient, which contains an ingredient (bromine) which is also found in certain flame retardants.  Some studies have found that bromide builds up in the human body, causing conditions related to neurological impairment, reduced fertility, thyroid dysfunction, hormonal complications, and skin lesions.  The FDA has approved the use of BVO as a food additive in limited quantities, but the safety of that limit has been questioned more & more recently as people are becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of BVO.  The limit set by the FDA becomes increasingly irrelevant as soda consumption increases.  There’s an excellent article about the dangers of BVO here.  This is definitely one ingredient that should be avoided.  VERDICT:  THUMBS (WAY) DOWN.

Yellow 5.  Yet another food additive that other countries have banned, yet continues to be prevalent in the diets of Americans.  Yellow 5 has a myriad of adverse health affects, including mild to severe allergic reactions, hyperactivity in children, blurred vision, migraines, fatigue, and anxiety.   This stuff is all through our food and through our pets’ food, putting us and all of our loved ones at risk.  VERDICT:  THUMBS (WAY) DOWN.

So, through all of my research, it appears that most of the ingredients in Mountain Dew are poison for our bodies– nothing more.  Although all sodas contain different ingredients, most of them contain at least one of the junk ingredients above.  And I won’t even get into a discussion of the harmful effects of aspartame in diet sodas– that’s another post (or book) entirely.

Sure, soda might taste good– but nothing tastes good enough to risk wreaking havoc on our health.  And the extensive list of ingredients above is sure to do just that.

The sad thing is– most people probably aren’t even aware of the poison that they’re putting into their bodies every day.  Not just with soft drinks, but with all of the other food that we’re consuming as well.  We need to learn to read nutrition labels and understand them.  We need to familiarize ourselves with what’s good for us and what’s not.  We need to learn what ingredients like “high fructose corn syrup” and “brominated vegetable oil” really are and what effects they can have on our health.

The poor quality of food that’s available to us in the United States is a passionate subject for me.  Unless you are growing and raising your own food, or your wallet is big enough to buy top-quality, grass-fed, all-natural, hormone-and-pesticide-free, organic EVERYTHING, you really have little control over what you’re putting into your body.  You have to eat what’s available for you to buy.  Although cutting soda from your diet might be difficult, especially if you’ve been drinking it for a long time and are dependent on the sugar rush you get from it, it’s possible.  However, cutting food additives, hormones, and chemicals from your diet is much more difficult.  For some, it’s just not a financially feasible option.

I encourage you, as fellow members of a nation that’s plagued by health problems and obesity and consequently soaring health care costs, to simply READ your food labels.   Question their ingredients.  Try to understand them.  Educate your friends and loved ones.  The less junk you put into your body, the better off you will be.

If you want to take it a step further, head over to change.org and sign petitions asking companies to remove some of these toxic ingredients from their products.  I just signed this one the other day asking Kraft to remove artificial dyes from their macaroni & cheese– a staple in the diet of many American children.



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