Healthy Living

What’s In A Can Of Soda? Carbonated Water, Lots Of Sugar, And Enough Calories To Warrant A 20-Minute Bike Ride

soda pop
Though every brand of soda is different, they all contain plenty of common ingredients, like sugar or artificial sweeteners, carbonated water, caffeine, caramel color, vanilla, sodium, or modified food starch. Photo courtesy of Popartic / Shutterstock.com

Just how much sugar is in that sweet can of soda? And what else, exactly, is inside that stuff?

Most sodas contain carbonated water mixed with a variety of other chemicals and additives, depending on which brand you’re drinking — whether it's Coke, Pepsi, 7-Up, or Fanta. While most regular sodas contain over 35 grams of sugar, diet sodas contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose that aren't necessarily much better for you.

Coca-Cola’s recipe is top secret, known only to a few select employees. What is known, however, is that Coca-Cola contains either a lot of high fructose corn syrup, or sucrose from cane sugar. It also contains caramel color, caffeine, phosphoric acid, coca extract, lime extract, vanilla, and glycerin. Other types of sodas use a combination of these common ingredients, as well as others like sodium citrate, ester gum for preserving food, and modified food starch. Until 1903, in fact, Coca-Cola was coca-based, meaning it contained a little bit of cocaine. But after some pressure from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the company dropped cocaine from its ingredients and instead substituted caffeine as its main stimulant.

High fructose corn syrup is another controversial topic. Many argue it’s a main driver of the American obesity epidemic, while advocates and food companies say it’s not any more dangerous than regular sugar. Sucrose, glucose, and fructose are three simple sugars that are found naturally in foods but also used as additives. Though each type of sugar may not taste that differently, the body processes them in unique ways. High fructose corn syrup is essentially a mix of different corn syrups processed to convert glucose into fructose, in order to create a certain sweetness.

It’s much cheaper than regular sugar, so it’s used quite frequently in American processed foods and drinks. According to an infographic on The Atlantic, table sugar contains 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose — and high-fructose corn syrup involves 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose. Since they’re almost the same, plenty argue that high fructose corn syrup is really not worse than sugar. But it’s still a source of unnecessary calories. Besides, “the metabolic effects of fructose presented in ordinary human diets remain poorly investigated and highly controversial,” one study led by Fred Brouns, a professor of Health Food Innovation at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, said.

Recently, Coca-Cola has been under fire for inserting another controversial ingredient into some of their other products like Fanta or Powerade. Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) is a chemical that has been used as a stabilizer in fruit-flavored drinks, in order to prevent ingredients from separating; but it’s been banned as a food additive in several countries due to its negative health effects. Despite finally removing it from their products, Coca-Cola says it never used the chemical at dangerous levels. “All of our beverages, including those with BVO, are safe and always have been – and comply with all regulations in the countries where they are sold,” Josh Gold, a Coca-Cola spokesman, said in a statement. “The safety and quality of our products is our highest priority.”

The Calories In A Can

Most of the calories in a can of soda are comprised of sugar (pick your poison — either high fructose corn syrup, sucrose from cane sugar, or artificial sweeteners).

In an attempt to counter growing obesity in America, Coca-Cola has launched a campaign called “The Happiness Cycle,” which aims to promote bicycling and exercise by showing how much activity it takes to burn off the calories of one soda can — about 140 calories. In a video released recently, Coca-Cola attempted to create a light-hearted view that merged exercise and their product by showing people biking for about 23 minutes in order to “buy” a can of Coke. The average time to burn 140 calories of soda while bike-riding would be about 23 minutes for the average person.

“It’s so clever on so many levels, but it’s twisted too,” Michele Simon, a public health lawyer, told NDTV.

So before you consume those 140 calories of sugar, maybe ride your bike for a while first. Or just ride your bike and drink water instead.

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