Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Why is that soft drinks have become the most criticized products in the food and beverage category, for one reason or the other? If this trend continues, probably the day may not be far when mandatory labeling becomes necessary to warn the consumers about the adverse consequences of drinking these beverages on health like the one prevailing now regarding smoking! It is known that smoking leads to lung cancer but no one has thought of banning smoking through ban on cultivation of tobacco or manufacture of beedis, cigarettes and cheroots. Same is true with chewing of tobacco which goes on unhindered without even a warning! What about alcohol? Every body knows that it is a habit forming beverage product and it can harm the liver leading to serious consequences. Except imposing higher duties and taxes to make them costlier, nothing much is done to stem the onslaught of alcoholism.

Coming to soft drinks, the industry was first blamed for including ingredients which are habit forming which did not cut much ice with the consumers. Then came the pesticide 'insinuations' creating a scare about these products in the consumer mind, at least for some time. The accusation that soft drinks, especially the cola drinks that contain phosphoric acid, are corrosive and hence harmful still lingers to day in spite of lack of scientific data on this score. Women have been warned that if they consume cola drinks, they may end up with osteoporosis because of 'draining' of calcium from their bones and this theory has not yet been proved beyond a shadow of doubt. The HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) story is still fresh in our memory and the claim that this sweetener is responsible for obesity all over the world has not been confirmed still, though some scientists do believe HFCS has a role in the secretion of two hormones linked to eating and appetite viz Leptin and Ghrelin and the consequent influence on gluttony. Probably no scientists seem to be certain how HFCS, a source of energy, can behave differently from glucose in inducing obesity. There is a marked reluctance to admit that over weight is simply the result of eating more than what the body needs whether it is carbohydrate or fat. Besides there are a few reports implicating HFCS in many diseases like diabetes, kidney damage, etc without adequate clinical data.

The latest sharp shooter comes from a group of scientists who found higher levels of albuminoids in the urine of women taking two or more bottles of soft drinks. Albuminuria in urine is supposed to be a marker for kidney malfunction. The underlying assumption is that properly functioning kidneys do not permit passage of large molecules like albumin through, to be part of the urine and therefore kidney function is adversely affected. Statistically speaking such women have 1.86 times more chances to be affected by kidney damage. These findings were based on an analysis of data of about 10000 people in a data base in USA. About 17% of women taking more than 2 bottles of soft drinks had higher levels of albuminuria indicating the early stages of onset of kidney damage. Interestingly men and those who took diet drinks did not show such a vulnerability leading them to suspect that the culprit could be HFCS, though other unknown factors were not ruled out. It is incumbent upon the soft drink industry to engage reputed scientific groups with unimpeachable integrity to dwell upon such damaging findings and reassure the consumers about the safety of their products, especially for long term consumption.


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