Soda and other sweetened beverages have been identified as a major contributor to the obesity1,2 and diabetes epidemics around the world,3,4 and in light of the scientific evidence, many public health organizations have started recommending daily sugar limits.
At least 10 countries have implemented or are working toward implementing taxes on soda in an effort to reduce consumption and improve public health.
One 12-ounce can of regular soda contains on average between 8 and 10 teaspoons of sugar, far exceeding 100 percent of your recommended daily sugar allotment of 6 teaspoons (25 grams).
Previous research conservatively suggests sugary beverages alone are to blame for about 183,000 deaths worldwide each year, including 133,000 diabetes deaths and 44,000 heart disease deaths.7 What’s worse, the death rates associated with sweetened beverages were highest in those under the age of 45.
Reducing the number of sugary drinks you consume each day can go a long way toward reducing your risk for metabolic dysfunction, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke and obesity.
Unfortunately, the continued profitability of the soda industry depends on public ignorance about the dangers associated with their products, and evidence reveals companies such as Coca-Cola are willing to go to great lengths to manipulate public health organizations and distort science to further their corporate agenda.
How Your Body Responds to Coca-Cola
Two years ago, former pharmacist Niraj Naik produced an infographic showing what happens in your body within the first hour of drinking a can of Coca-Cola. At the time, he told The Daily Mail:8
“When I worked as a community pharmacist I had some great success at helping people get off long term medication … Many of them [patients] would consume fizzy drinks on a daily basis. A few on several medications would consume two to three cans a day …
My first advice to them would be to do a simple swap, replacing fizzy drinks with water with fresh lemon or lime juice. In many cases just doing this would have a dramatic effect on their health.
So this indicated to me that fizzy drinks and sugar were big issues relating to blood pressure and metabolic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.”
According to Coca-Cola, soda is a perfectly acceptable rehydration choice, even before, during and after exercise,9 but based on its physiological effects, this is a hollow claim indeed. You simply cannot compare clean, pure water to soda when you’re thirsty.
Internal Documents Reveal Coca-Cola Works to Undermine Public Health Initiatives
The British Channel 4 documentary, “Secret of Coca-Cola,” featured above, reveals how Coca-Cola Co. is fighting the implementation of health and environmental policies that might impact the company’s bottom line.
Leaked internal documents and emails — which have become known as “The Coke Files” — shows the soda industry is in fact working against public health in a very coordinated and comprehensive fashion, using well-known tobacco-industry tactics such as:
• Message coordination and influencing media. As an example of how Coca-Cola deals with journalists who fail to follow corporate talking points, in a May 2016 email, Amanda Rosseter, the global group director of strategic communications at the Coca-Cola Co., wrote:10
“A reporter for Wired reached out to our media line late last night with a series of questions and an immediate deadline … The story, however, posted early this morning without waiting for our input.
The story … focuses on sugar, stevia and the Company’s attempts to offer options to consumers with a pessimistic tone … We will be reaching out to this reporter to better understand her decision not to include our perspective, and to build her brain around our strategy.”
• Developing close ties with influential scientists and experts who then speak on the company’s behalf while presenting themselves as “independent” experts.
As just one example, two years ago, Coca-Cola Company was outed for secretly funding and supporting the Global Energy Balance Network, a nonprofit front group that promoted exercise as the solution to obesity while significantly downplaying the role of diet and sugary beverages in the weight loss equation.11
• Debunking and manipulating science. Research has revealed simply funding a study will significantly influence the results.
As just one example, an investigation by Marion Nestle, Ph.D. and professor of nutrition, food studies and public health, found that out of 168 studies funded by the food industry, 156 of them favored the sponsor.12
• Astroturfing — The effort on the part of special interests to surreptitiously sway public opinion and make it appear as though it’s a grassroots effort for or against a particular agenda, when in reality such a groundswell of public opinion might not exist.
• Lobbying at every level of government.
Coca-Cola Fights Soda Tax by Influencing Local Politicians
What’s disturbing is the level of political support Coca-Cola and other soda companies are receiving. In a June 2015 email, Lauren Craig, Coca-Cola’s senior manager of public affairs and communications for the greater Philadelphia area, revealed how she successfully sidelined a 2015 soda tax proposal by rubbing elbows with city officials:15
“Our coalition was actively engaged to prevent a beverage tax from being introduced. The coalition’s grassroots campaign included small business meetings with council members. Sources in City Hall indicated that council members were wary of a beverage industry campaign against a tax.
Our next steps include furthering relationships with newly elected city council officials to prevent discussion of beverage taxes in the future. We also have an engagement plan for Philadelphia Mayoral Democratic nominee, Jim Kenney.”
Last year, email evidence also showed Barbara Bowman, Ph.D., director of the Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aided a Coca-Cola representative in efforts to influence World Health Organization officials to relax its sugar limits.
Soda Industry Has Troubling Ties to Public Health Community
Public health researchers have also warned that the beverage industry has created deep financial ties to the public health community over the past several years, and that this was strategically done to silence critics and gain allies in the fight against regulations.16,17,18,19
A recent study looking into the sponsorship activities of soda companies suggests the reason for soda companies’ philanthropic interest in health organizations has little to do with actually supporting measures that would improve public health, and everything to do with influencing such organizations to further the industry’s own agenda:20
“From 2011 to 2015, the Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo were found to sponsor a total of 96 national health organizations, including many medical and public health institutions whose specific missions include fighting the obesity epidemic. During the study period, these two soda companies lobbied against 29 public health bills intended to reduce soda consumption or improve nutrition …
These companies lobbied against public health intervention in 97 percent of cases, calling into question a sincere commitment to improving the public’s health. By accepting funding from these companies, health organizations are inadvertently participating in their marketing plans.”
According to study co-author Daniel Aaron, a student at Boston University’s medical school, there can be little doubt that Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo are purposely trying to undermine public health measures in order to protect profits.
We wanted to look at what these companies really stand for. And it looks like they are not helping public health at all — in fact they’re opposing it almost across the board …” Aaron told The New York Times.21
Many Health Organizations Compromise Public Health to Satisfy Sponsors
Indeed, the researchers discovered a number of instances where influential public health organizations either turned against a soda tax initiative or remained silent on the matter after receiving an industry donation. Here are just a few examples:
- Save the Children, a nonprofit group that provides health education programs for children, had previously supported soda tax campaigns in several states but suddenly stopped in 2010 after receiving a $5 million grant from Pepsi.
- In 2012, when New York proposed a ban on supersized sodas, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics cited “conflicting research” as the reason for not supporting the measure. That same year, the Academy had received $525,000 from Coca-Cola. The following year, Coke gave them another $350,000.
- Dietitians listed as having received consulting fees from Coca-Cola also participated in a Twitter campaign aimed at defeating the proposed soda tax in Oakland, California.22
- The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the mission of which is to fight for equality for minorities, opposed soda tax initiatives even though black and Hispanic communities have disproportionally high rates of obesity and related health problems.
- The Hispanic Federation has also chosen not to support soda tax initiatives. The reason for their lenience becomes clearer in light of the fact that both of these organizations have received large donations from Coca-Cola. NAACP received more than $1 million between 2010 and 2015, and the Hispanic Federation received $600,000 between 2012 and 2015.
Nigerian Court Rules Coca-Cola Drinks ‘Poisonous’
Meanwhile, in Nigeria, a Lagos High Court Judge has ruled two Coca-Cola products, Sprite and Fanta, potentially poisonous, as the benzoic acid and sunset yellow used in the products can pose a health risk when combined with ascorbic acid (vitamin C). (The former is known to turn into benzene, a carcinogen, when mixed with vitamin C.)23 According to CNN:24
“Justice Adedayo Oyebanji ordered the Nigerian Bottling Co. … to place written warnings on Fanta and Sprite bottles against drinking them with vitamin C, and awarded costs of  million naira ($6,350) against the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) for failing to ensure health standards.
‘It is manifest that NAFDAC has been grossly irresponsible in its regulatory duties to the consumers of Fanta and Sprite manufactured by Nigeria Bottling Company,’ the judge said. ‘NAFDAC has failed the citizens of this great nation by its certification as satisfactory for human consumption products … which become poisonous in the presence of ascorbic acid.'”
In response to the ruling, Nigeria’s Consumer Protection Council has initiated its own investigation. Director general Dupe Atoki said:
“[The council] is extremely concerned about the questions that have arisen from, and on account of this judgment. Fanta, Sprite and Coca-Cola have arguably and consistently been the most widely consumed beverages in Nigeria. The spectrum of consumption is also perhaps the widest, with consumption starting as early as age  and far into adult years.”
Closer to home, Coca-Cola is dealing with yet another scandal, as machines in a Coca-Cola plant in Northern Ireland somehow became clogged with human feces.25 Fortunately, it appears no contaminated cans were distributed or sold. The company has called in police to investigate how the bizarre contamination occurred.
Diet Soda Is Not the Answer
I firmly believe ditching soda and other sweetened beverages is one of the most important steps you can take to improve your weight and health, and this includes avoiding so-called “diet” drinks as well. Artificially sweetened beverages may in fact be worse for your health than regular soda.
Research has shown artificial sweeteners can stimulate your appetite, increase carb cravings, stimulate fat storage and promote weight gain. In fact, diet sodas may actually double your risk of obesity, while regular soda (at a rate of one can per day) is associated with a 60 percent increased risk of obesity.
In addition to that, aspartame is associated with a long list of other harmful effects, ranging from brain damage to pre-term delivery, while sucralose has been found to be particularly damaging to your intestines. A study26 published in 2008 found that sucralose:
- Reduces good bacteria in your intestines by 50 percent
- Increases the pH level in your intestines
- Affects a glycoprotein in your body that can have crucial health effects, particularly if you’re on certain medications like chemotherapy, or treatments for AIDS and certain heart conditions
In response to this study, James Turner, chairman of the national consumer education group Citizens for Health, issued the following statement:27
“The report makes it clear that the artificial sweetener Splenda and its key component sucralose pose a threat to the people who consume the product. Hundreds of consumers have complained to us about side effects from using Splenda and this study … confirms that the chemicals in the little yellow package should carry a big red warning label.”
For Optimal Health, Drink More Clean Water
Unfortunately, many are still in the dark about these health risks. Having healthy gut flora is absolutely vital for your optimal health so, clearly, any product that can destroy up to halfof your healthy intestinal bacteria can pose a critical risk to your health.
Sugar also promotes unhealthy bacterial growth, and many are already deficient in healthy bacteria due to consuming too many highly processed foods. This is why I recommend eating fermented vegetables every day, or at the very least taking a high-quality probiotic.
Remember, pure water is a zero-calorie drink. You cannot find a beverage that contains fewer calories. If you think about it, why on earth would you choose artificially sweetened water over regular mineral water? If you want some flavor, just squeeze a little bit of fresh lemon or lime into mineral water as these citrus fruits have some of the lowest fructose levels of all fruits.