One of the more amusing features of life in the USofA is the steady parade of things that are found to be bad for you. Studies are done constantly that show there is a risk of some health problem from nearly everything in our highly processed and man-made world.
I don’t doubt that many of these hazards are true. But they have to be seen against the dangers we faced in the world we came from, where smoke from chimney fires or steel mills might make the noon sky dark in a city, or where bacteria lurked on every surface. Yet there’s still more to it. What’s most surprising about the identified hazards is that there is little talk about one of the largest hazards facing this nation, which is our addiction to cola beverages.
The per capita consumption of colas is around 150 quarts a year, or just under eight 12-oz cans a week. Some people drink considerably more, some considerably less, but the average works out to just over one a day. More than half of these are now “diet” colas with sweetners created in a lab.
The caffeine in one of these is about 45mg, which is about the same as a strong cup of coffee. That’s a hazard to those of us with migraine problems, but I’ll ignore the obvious problems associated with being a caffeinated nation. What’s remarkable is the recent finding that consumption of sugar or artificial sweetners, it doesn’t matter which, leads to a condition known as “Metabolic Syndrome”; basically, this is a kind of fdiabetes where the body stops being able to properly handle fats and carbohydrates and begins to store them at an alarming rate.
The finding that artificial sweetners do this as effectively as sugar is interesting. Apparently, our bodies were wired up to be active hunters and gatherers; the presence of too much sugar or even a sugar-like molecule causes us to react as though we are in a famine. In the USofA, sweet drinks are the first sign of a kind of famine to our metabolism. Our bodies are telling us that we are starving to death, and over-react accordingly.
That’s not the only strange effect of this large cola consumption, however. One of the ingredients of nearly all colas is phosphoric acid, added to give it “snappiness”. The exact amount added is only a small amount per can, but as anyone who’s tried to regenerate a dirty spark plug will tell you it’s enough to make cola slightly corrosive.
Going by the most recent formula known for Coke syrup, the total phosphoric acid consumed by an average American is about 63g per year. That may not seem like a lot, but it’s the same as drinking 2.5oz, or a quarter of a can, of concentrated phosphoric acid every year. Would you do that? Well, at a can a day or so you consume that much slowly over time.
The effect is that it decreases bone density, largely because calcium phosphate is a very soluble molecule when compared to the other forms of calcium. Your bones can’t handle being made of the stuff. The result is a nasty increase in osteoporosis, especially among women. Young girls who drink colas by the canful when they developing their bones are certainly going to have a serious problem later on in life when those bones are found to be more hollow than they should be.
What’s all this mean? For one, I don’t let my kids get anywhere near colas, even though I allow some other sugary beverages. What I find most alarming is how we can fret about the health effects of various things that are present in our environment and still consume a substantial amount of corrosive acid every year – and for no real purpose at all. That’s where we are in the USofA; the cola warriors who drink all this stuff are nothing more than a frightening allegory of what’s gone wrong. The obvious just isn’t good enough for us.