Let’s face it, there is always going to be soda around, and there will always be people who don’t seem to mind consuming it. That’s fine as long as they understand what they are consuming, it’s a personal choice. What bothers me is when manufacturers tout healthy benefits that aren’t true just to lure people to buy their product.
When I was walking down the soda isle in search of water, I noticed a bottle of birch beer and these marketing claims jumped out at me: “old fashioned taste” and “original recipe.” A few steps more and I saw a bottle of ginger ale with these words on the label: “made with real ginger.” I started wondering and even hoped that there was a chance that manufacturers had changed their formula to a healthier option, so I turned the bottle around and read the ingredients.
High Fructose Corn Syrup, Caramel Color, Natural and artificial flavorings, gum acacia, red #40.
Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, natural flavors, potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate, caramel color
Hmm, I don’t think these additives fit the bill of being old-fashioned ingredients, and where is the ginger in the ginger ale? Unfortunately the marketing claims were false.
About the Ingredients
High Fructose Corn Syrup or HFCS – A sweetener derived from corn (usually GMO corn) which is processed into a syrup from starch. It is treated with enzymes to convert the glucose to fructose making it extra sweet. The higher prices of sugar in the 1970’s led the food companies to switch to HFCS which is a less expensive alternative to sugar.
Caramel Color – A brown substance made by heating sugar of any type (i.e., corn syrup) and processed with ammonia and sugar to intensify brown color. There is much debate about the ammonia making it carcinogenic.
Natural and Artificial Flavorings – This is a term that the FDA does not define or regulate. In a nutshell natural flavors are derived from plant or animal sources, and artificial flavors are made from scratch in a lab. While you might be thinking that natural flavorings are safe to eat, think again. Vanilla flavoring is extracted from the glands on a beaver’s butt.
Gum Acacia - A thickener and stabilizer extracted from the Acai Tree. Gum acacia does not seem to have harmful effects.
Potassium Sorbate – A naturally occurring preservative that prevents mold, yeast and bacterial growth. It is used in a wide array of food and cosmetic products. Individuals with sodium sensibilities should limit their intake; otherwise there are no known negative effects on health.
Sodium Benzoate – A synthetic preservative that is used in soft drinks, fruit juices, preserves, jams and margarine. May encourage hyperactivity in humans and animals. Studies on mice have shown that there is a chance that high amounts can cause damage to the nervous system or brain.
Red #40 – A red food coloring that was originally manufactured from coal tar and is now made from petroleum. There is much controversy over the safety of food colorings. It has been suggested that artificial colorings can cause hyperactivity or ADD in children.
And on to the Nutrition Facts . .
There isn’t much to read here, is there? The above nutrition label is for the birch beer which contains 28 grams of sugar per 8 ounces. Four grams of sugar equal one teaspoon. That means that the birch beer has 7 teaspoons of sugar per 8 ounces, that’s almost one teaspoon per ounce! The ginger ale has slightly less sugar at 26 grams per 12 ounces (6.5 teaspoons).
A Better Alternative
When you are craving a soft drink, try sparkling water with fresh fruit or fruit juice. You can even add sliced ginger and a splash of honey for a homemade ginger flavored soda.
If you care about your health, please do yourself a favor and shop wisely. When you are buying food with a package, take a few seconds to read the entire food label before tossing it into your cart.