Matt Brundage publications

The Perils of Pepsi

How soda effects your health

This essay was written quite a while ago; the reference to the high school-age girlfriend no longer applies.

In high school, I was a moderate soda drinker. I would usually drink a twelve ounce can at lunch and occasionally I would have one at work. Since high school, I have profoundly decreased my consumption of soda. Last spring, I took a nutrition course at Montgomery College; it was there that I "saw the light". Because of that course, I have since limited my soft drink consumption to just four servings in the past eight months. I remember each instance distinctly. My girlfriend, currently a senior in high school, is a moderate to heavy soda drinker; my goal is to persuade her to cut back on her soda consumption. This publication will do that by outlining the detrimental qualities of soft drinks.

Caffeine, a mildly addictive stimulant drug, is present in 95% of colas made by Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola. In addition to artificially boosting one's energy level, caffeine can cause nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness, and a rapid heart beat. (Jacobson) My girlfriend often complains to me of not being able to fall asleep at night; her Pepsi habit may play a factor in this situation. Caffeine also drains calcium from the body. Drinking twelve ounces of a caffeinated drink such as Pepsi or Dr. Pepper causes twenty milligrams of calcium to be excreted in the urine. (Jacobson) This calcium-robbing quality of caffeine further exacerbates the problem that many girls and women have — low overall calcium intake. Meeting the FDA's recommended daily allowance for calcium helps prevent osteoporosis, high blood pressure, symptoms of PMS, heart disease, strokes, colon cancer, and kidney stones. (Goulart) Simply replacing soda in the diet with milk or orange juice will ensure that the daily allowance of calcium is being met.

Sodas, while containing no calcium or potassium, have high amounts of phosphorus (phosphoric acid). Sodas are acidic because the ratio of potassium and calcium to phosphorus is so low. Phosphoric acid is effective at dissolving calcium in the bones and it is what gives colas their "refreshing" taste. (Wardlaw) Soft drinks such as Brisk Iced Tea and Sprite also have high amounts of phosphoric and citric acid. In order to put the acidity of colas in perspective, high school science classes do experiments in which a pupil places a tooth or other bone into a beaker of an acidic beverage. The tooth will dissolve completely within two weeks. Similar experiments have been conducted on dead insects, with similar results. This rapid-dissolve rate is one thing to think about the next time you have a mouthful of cola.

Another disturbing soft drink issue is the sugar content. Sodas have much higher sugar levels than other beverages. Take, for instance, a twelve ounce glass of unsweetened iced tea. To most people, one or two teaspoons of sugar added to the tea will suffice in making the beverage sweet. The average twelve ounce soda, on the other hand, contains ten teaspoons of sugar (in the form of refined sugar or high-fructose corn syrup). For this reason, many children and teens get their daily allowance of sugar from soft drinks alone. Many of these young people also consume foods with high levels of sugar and exceed their daily allowance of sugar three or four-fold. These high amounts of dietary sugars may lead to weight gain, diabetes, and the eventual increased risk of heart disease. (Goulart) Diets high in refined sugar also increase the possibility of tooth decay.

The carbonation in soft drinks can hinder athletic performance. When I played basketball in high school, my coaches always encouraged us not to drink carbonated beverages such as soda during the season. The carbonation in soda clings to the lungs, making breathing and physical performance harder. For this reason, many sports drinks (such as Gatorade) are non-carbonated.

Colas, in addition to being high in sugars, phosphoric acid, and caffeine, are almost completely devoid of nutrients. A twelve ounce can of Pepsi contains only two nutrients: sugar (which subsequently provides 100% of the drink's total energy) and sodium (35 milligrams or 1% of the RDA). This beverage stands in stark contrast to an eight ounce serving of low-fat milk, which provides protein, vitamin A, riboflavin, calcium and vitamin D in quantities over 10% of their daily allowances. Heavy soft drink consumption among teens also correlates to "low intake of magnesium, ascorbic acid, riboflavin, and vitamin A, as well as high intake of calories, fat, and carbohydrate." (Jacobson) Teens have doubled or even tripled their soft drink intake since the late 1970s; their consumption of milk has dropped by 40%. (Jacobson)

As I peer over my sources and my notes, I cannot find one beneficial aspect of soda, other than the fact that it is "refreshing". Being malnourished and hooked on caffeine is a large price to pay for being temporarily refreshed. I have successfully cut soft drinks from my diet and I believe that this has improved the quality of my life. It is for this reason and the reasons stated above that I urge moderate and heavy soda drinkers to cut back on their consumption. I write this paper not only for my English assignment, but for my girlfriend and for countless other people who still drink sodas regularly and feel no shame.

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Works Cited

Goulart, Frances Sheridan. Nutritional Self-Defense. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1984.

Jacobson, Michael F. "Liquid Candy: How Soft Drinks Are Harming Americans' Health". October 1998.

Wardlaw, Gordon M. Contemporary Nutrition. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2000.