What is in Soda and Why is it so Addictive?

A glass of soda with ice and the title "The Dangers of Soda."

Nearly half of all the people in the USA drink soda every day and Americans consume around 240 pints of the fizzy stuff each year. That’s a staggering 7.5 billion gallons down the throat and into the nation’s digestive systems each year.

Let’s have a look at just what is in the most popular kinds of soda, like Coke and Pepsi, why they’re so addictive and how caffeinated drinks affect you.

Strange Soda Ingredients

A can of Coke is a bizarre mixture of extremely high levels of sugar (or the even worse high fructose corn syrup), corrosive phosphoric acid, ‘natural’ caramel coloring, and a well known drug that has a powerful effect on your brain chemistry – caffeine.

Sugar or HFCS

A standard can of Coke has around 10 teaspoons or 39 grams of sugar or high fructose corn syrup in it. And that’s just the smaller cans. A 20 oz bottle has 17 teaspoons or 65 grams of sugar or high fructose corn syrup, strongly associated with diabetes and many other diseases.

A spoonful of sugar cubes.

Do we really have to ask why there is such an epidemic of obesity across America with such a pervasive source of fattening sugar in our diets?

Phosphoric Acid

The phosphoric acid found in Coke makes it one of the most acidic beverages available, with a pH rating of 2.5. For comparison, battery acid that eats through skin has a pH of 1. Pure water has a pH of 7 and your blood needs to be maintained between 7.35 pH and 7.45 pH for proper cellular function.

While a healthy digestive system can buffer the acidity of cola, it does so at a cost – by drawing on your body’s calcium phosphate stores. This can eventually leech minerals from your bones and is why long term soda drinkers are at a higher risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.

Caramel Coloring

The ‘natural’ caramel coloring in sodas like Pepsi and Coke is made by reacting sugar with sulfites and ammonia under high temperatures. Byproducts created with this process include the compounds 2-methylimidozole and 4-methylimidozole, which are known carcinogens, but the FDA still allows this product to be used widely.

A splash of caramel.

Why is Soda so Addictive?

Aside from the carbonated water and flavorings, the last ingredient in cola, caffeine, is the reason why it is so addictive.

Caffeine is the world’s most popular psychoactive drug and it’s reported that more than 80% of Americans have it in some form every day.

Soon after you drink something like Coke with high levels of caffeine in it, it is absorbed through your small intestine and into your bloodstream.

Caffeine is both water and fat soluble and is easily able to cross the blood-brain barrier to affect your brain cells directly.

The caffeine molecule is actually quite similar to another molecule that is present naturally in your brain called adenosine. It’s adenosine’s job to slow down nerve cell activity along neural pathways, but when caffeine is present it blocks adenosine receptors.

This can increase alertness, but excess adenosine molecules in your brain stimulates the adrenal glands to produce the old flight or fight chemical adrenaline.

For some people this feels like energy. For others, it’s more like anxiety. Regardless, your body wasn’t designed to be in flight or fight mode constantly and when caffeine’s effects wear off you’ll often feel exhausted.

Over time, your brain attempts to compensate by growing more adenosine receptors and decreasing the number of receptors for norepinephrine, another stimulant like adrenaline. This explains why caffeine addicts tend to need more and more of it over time and feel so bad when they don’t get it.

Here’s a very interesting video about soda!

Giving Up Soda

Fortunately, unlike many other addictive substances, caffeine addiction can be beaten relatively easily. Caffeine withdrawal headaches are commonly reported, but certain herbs and supplements can greatly minimize these. There are also now some far healthier alternatives to soda that taste similar but potentially do your body good.

When you go for around 14 days without having caffeine, and support your adrenal gland through the process, then the levels of adenosine and norepinephrine receptors in your brain are believed to return back to their baseline levels and you are unlikely to feel the same ‘need’ for soda anymore.

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  • Jim, I would love more info on breaking my coke addiction. Over the last 2years I have been having boughts of illness which have been blamed on stress and anxiety. However today I had three cans of coke and a coffee and have felt the same effects. Obviously there is a link between my anxiety and too much caffeine.

  • I am a doctor and these are all lies. Drinking more soda will actually normalize your sugar levels. You can cure Type II Diabetes by consuming 3-4 cans of Coke daily, this process make take up to a year so keep drinking soda.

  • in school my group is doing a project on junk food and seeing the ingredients in that junk food that may or may not cause diseases

  • Just wanted to say something:
    I’m a biotechnology student and have studied chemistry, biochemistry and biology.
    As far as I can see, while this post does contain facts that are indeed correct, those facts are used to create an intimidation effect.

    Let’s be honest here – soda isn’t your everyday health drink: it’s high in sugar, packed with calories, and the chemicals it contains are not healthy – that is very true.

    What I find missing in this two-line description which summarises the entirety of the post above, is the words: “when consumed in excessive amounts”.

    Let’s tackle the big ones first – Cancer.

    The above post claims that some of the chemicals found in cola, used as the example soda here (though the composition of sodas varies with the manufacturer, the type and the flavor) once in contact with the body, directly or indirectly cause cancer.

    While I cannot confirm or deny that, due to my currently insufficient knowledge in chemistry, my knowledge in biochemistry and biology enables me to enlighten you in regards to cancer:
    Cancer is caused by mutations to the DNA – those happen more that you think.|
    The cells in your body have a defence mechanism for that – they have internal correction mechanisms that fix mistakes in the genetic code (mutations) and in case the error is irreparable, they can commit suicide, in a process that is called Programmed cell death (PDC) – a process meant to ensure the forming of a cancerous cell will not happen.
    however, sometimes these defences fail, and the result is a cancerous cell that grows and multiplies, forming a tumor.

    so how do mutations happen?

    Well, there are many ways – there’s the obvious radioactive radiation, usually gamma radiation in the movies, which comes from thermonuclear reactions in suns, exploding planets, nuclear weapons and the likes – the cosmic type is mostly blocked by our atmosphere and nukes don’t go off that often anymore.

    There are also chemicals, like those in cola – the evil bastards get in your body and go all cancerous in yer system.

    However, your body isn’t as stupid as you think – it realises it can get hurt, and that’s why it has systems specialized at cleansing itself from toxic stuff – the liver and kidneys filter the blood and disable contaminants, and small proteins in your bodies called antibodies that match certain toxins and chemicals bond with these chemicals, disabling them.

    So if our body is so smart, why is the above post sound so paranoid about them chemicals?

    It’s because we’re stupid – no offence.

    Humans like feeling good – it’s part of why we have enjoy procreation so much, and why so many types of food and drink exist.
    soda tastes good, so we drink it because we like how it tastes.
    now, as I’ve mentioned, our body can handle it’s sh*t, but that goes only so far, and every filter has it’s limit – when we have too much soda, the toxic materials in it get past our defences and can then effect the cells and their genetic material.
    if successful, and in the event the mutation is irreparable and the PCD fails, an oncological cell will form, then a tumor will develop.

    That’s the thing, really – soda in itself is not dangerous.
    it really isn’t, and that’s why the FDA does not ban it.
    same with cigarettes and alcohol.

    While these substances are dangerous if consumed and some have lethal effects on the body, they cannot force us to consume them – we control what goes in our mouth, choose to smoke or drink.

    I drink soda & light drinks, beer too – I’m fine with it.
    I just keep it to one cup every day or so, and drink beer once in a while – I have it for fun, with a meal preferably, and enjoy it thoroughly, all the while understanding it’s contents.

    Am I not afraid?

    sure, there’s risk, but there’s also risk in medicine – I was on a pill named normopresan used to help negate the symptoms of my tourette’s syndrome (which moved from a medium-heavy level to a very light one, nowadays) when I was young (about 8-12 y.o).
    One day, I got confused and took a double dose, which led to me being rushed to the hospital, very sleepy – you see, this medicine effects your blood pressure amongst other things.
    afterwards, I used a homeopathic treatment and got off the medicine.

    so we’ve established medicine is dangerous – antibiotics damage your immune system, chemotherapy destroys your body as well as cancerous tumors, and even your own immune system might turn against you when it comes to autoimmune illnesses.

    And yet we keep using medicine – because we use it in moderation and are cautious.

    One last time – while soda can damage your body, it can only do so if you allow it to do so, by excessively consuming it.
    just ask yourself – are you controlling your consumption?

  • There is some other additive in soda that is more addictive than caffeine that these soda companies don’t want you to know about.If we knew about it,their control over our lives would be in jeopardy!

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