Coca-Cola: 58 million glass, plastic & cans collected by Birmingham City Council

Not a single one of the Coca-Cola ingredients does you any good whatsoever. Indeed most do harm to your health in small quantities, all do harm in quantity: carbonated water, coca-leaf extract, caffeine, phosphoric acid, high fructose corn syrup & sugar, artificial sweeteners and sulfite ammonia caramel (E150d).

Coca-Cola_squashed canLocal NHS services and Birmingham Public Health have to pick up the tab for the health consequences of people drinking Coca-Cola and other similar beverages while . . .

Birmingham City Council has the costs of dealing with the collection, recycling or disposal of the glass, plastic or cans in which the coke is packaged.

Coca-Cola sells more than four billion drinks in Great Britain every year. The glass, plastic and cans of these 4bn products are collected before being recycled or put into landfill by local authorities.

Pro rata, Birmingham City Council is responsible for 58.2M empty Coca-Cola bottles, plastic containers and cans — along with all the associated costs.

acknowledgement: A big thank you to Bartow Elmore (@BartElmore) whose recently published book Citizen Coke: The making of Coca-Cola capitalism provided a lot of the info and insights behind this series of blogposts about Coca-Cola. 


[Featured image is by Lorena.]


Coca-Cola ingredient: Sulfite ammonia caramel (E150d) . . . too high in a test of a UK coke

Sulfite ammonia caramel (E150d) is a widely used safe food colourant at certain levels.

But Coca-Cola don’t always keep to these safe levels.

In 2012, the US-based Center for Science in the Public Interest tested Coca-Cola in nine countries and found that the quantities of caramel colouring differed — they even differed between a coke in Washington DC from one in California where the regulations are much stricter. These findings were published as Carcinogenicity and regulation of caramel colorings in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Heath, Volume 18 Issue 3.

And yes, since you might be asking, the level of caramel colouring used in their UK sample was too high.

[Featured image is by Lorena.]

Coca-Cola ingredients: Artificial sweeteners — and why consumers still put on weight

Coca-Cola uses different sweeteners in different products — aspartame, aceulfame K and stevia ones of the steviol glycosides. They are all widely used in the food industry.

There is also evidence that consumption of artificial sweeteners is associated with more weight gain than even consumption of free sugars. There are various scientific hypotheses as to why.

In a layperson’s terms, it seems that our brains and our metabolism treats artificial sweeteners as though they were sugar. And for those of you who are interested in the science behind it all, here are links to two relevant papers:

  1. Yang et al (2010) Gaining weight by ‘going diet’? Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings. Journal of Biology and Medicine.
  2. Suez et al (2014) in the prestigious Nature journal: Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota.

Concerns about the carcinogenic effects have been raised too, though regulatory bodies in both the US and Europe — and the NHS discredit these concerns. (See, for example, the Center for Science in the Public Interest here — you’ll need to scroll down; the NHS on acesulfame K here.)

[Featured image is by Lorena.]

Coca-Cola ingredients: High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) & sugar

A standard 330ml can of coke contains no nutrients other than 139kcal-worth of energy. A McDonald’s ‘standard’ coke, however, is 950ml and contains 400kcal, a fifth of our daily energy requirement.

My understanding is that there isn’t any high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is in UK Coca-Cola. This may change in a couple of years’ time. The EU’s current HFCS output quota is 700,000 tonnes and that this quota is being lifted in September 2017 when all production quotas will be lifted. As the HFCS price is much more stable than cane or beet sugar, partly owing to US government subsidies for corn production, its use in soft drinks is likely to increase after the production quotas are lifted, as reported recently in Food News.

It’s been known for some time that the fructose in HFCS per calorie has a bigger impact on weight gain than the same calorific quantity of sugar. This may be because we metabolise it differently — it isn’t digested in the gut, but goes straight to the liver.

The dietary impact of sugar and HFCS is now a matter of concern at a global level, as indicated by this recently published paper by the Global Burden of Diseases Nutrition and Chronic Disease Expert Group.

Sugar consumption is inevitably of increasing concern to medics and cardiovascular clinicians here in the UK. This concern resulted in the Government and the Food Standards Agency* in 2008 asking the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) to clarify the relationship between carbohydrates and health. On 17th July 2015, they published their findings here.

Public Health England followed their recommendations with these headlines about sugars:

  1. Adults and children should get no more than 5%, down from the previous 10% of the energy intake from ‘free’ sugars — this is equivalent to 5-7 teaspoons of sugar a day.
  2. Sugar-sweetened beverages should be drunk as infrequently as possible by both adults and children.

Another way of looking at the PHE recommendations is this: The GDA (average guideline daily amounts) for calories is 2000kcal. As 100g sugar provides ~400kcal of energy and the recommended intake from sugars is 5%, then we shouldn’t consume more than 25g of free suagrs per day, providing us with 100kcal of energy.

A single small can of Coca-Cola provides 139kcal, 7% of our daily energy requirement, and all from free sugars.

There is also some indication that sugar is addictive. Without doubt, it creates physical dependancy; i.e. the more you consume, the more you crave it, a familiar sensation to us all.

* Public Health England have now taken over the FSA’s role on nutrition.

[Featured image is by Lorena.]

Coca-Cola ingredients: Caffeine

The name Coca-Cola comes from two psychoactive drugs in their early formulation, coca meaning cocaine and caffeine from the kola-nut.

An earlier blogpost was about Coca-Cola’s relationship with cocaine. In this blogpost, we explore the ‘cola’ element of their name; i.e. caffeine, in their original formulation from the kola nut.

Caffeine is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug. It’s legal and unregulated in most parts of the world, including the UK. It creates physical dependency.*

The supply of caffeine from the West Africa ‘kola’ nut is in short supply, so nearly all of the caffeine in Coca-Cola products now is processed from waste tea leaves and coffee beans, as well as other chemical processing.

(Ironically, the company have benefitted greatly from the growing market for de-caffeinated products, including their own. Caffeine is a cheap by-product of the chemical process of decaffeinating tea leaves and coffee beans.)

* The difference made between a drug being classed as ‘addictive’ or one that causes ‘physical addiction’ is that the former results in ‘compulsive consumption despite significant adverse physical or mental reaction’. Most of us, however, do not offer tea or coffee to children, recognising that these are ‘adult’ drinks. Yet many adults, including parents give Coca-Cola and other caffeine-laced food products such as chocolate in quantity to their children, perhaps because they do not understand the reasons for the social taboo on tea and coffee for kids.

[Featured image is by Lorena.]

Coca-Cola ingredients: Phosphoric acid (E388)

Phosphoric acid (E388) is added to Coca-Cola to give it its tangy, slightly tart taste, counteracting the cloying sweetness of sugars or artificial sweeteners. It also has mild anti-microbial properties.

There is some evidence that its consumption, more than two colas a day, can cause kidney disease. A Framlington Osteoporosis study suggests it’s likely cola intake (so Pepsi as well as Coke) is also associated with lower bone mineral density in older women.

Phosphoric acid is the by-product of several industrial processes, including the production of detergents.

[Featured image is by Lorena.]

Coca-Cola and the production of cocaine

There is a long association between Coca-Cola and the production of cocaine. The company stopped putting cocaine into their products some hundred years ago; it now contains ‘extract’ from the coca-leaf, referred to inside the company as ‘Merchandise #5’ and listed on their product labels as ‘vegetable extract’.

Coca-Cola dominated the licensed (i.e. legitimate) purchase of the raw coca-leaf, and might even be the sole licensed global buyer outside the Andes. The US Food and Drug Administration has issued only one licence to import the raw coca-leaf into the US, and that is to the Stephan Chemical Company who process the coca-leaf for Coca-Cola at their Maywood, New Jersey plant.

The by-product of ‘de-cocainisation’ of the raw leaf is, of course, cocaine. The Stephan Chemical Company, whose website refers to ‘speciality chemicals’, sells the cocaine on to Mallinckrodt Inc who process it at their Dublin plant for pharmaceutical companies.

In 1985 Coca-Cola, seeking to dissociate themselves from cocaine, launched ‘New Coke’ which didn’t contain any cocaine derivatives. It was a sales disaster despite huge marketing roll-out, and the company swiftly returned to the coca-laced formulation then advertised as Coca-Cola Classic — which begs the question as to whether the extract of the coca leaf they use contains properties that are psychoactive and create physical dependency.

note: As well as the hugely informative Citizen Coke by Bart Elmore mentioned in our blogpost about Coca-Cola and water, it’s worth reading what Dominic Streatfield says about Coca-Cola in his book Cocaine, notably the blurred boundaries between licensed coca-leaf and that grown for the illegitimate drugs trade.

[Featured image is by Lorena.]

Coca-Cola ingredient: Carbonated water

All Coca-Cola drinks are mostly water by volume, the heaviest as well as the bulkiest part of their products.

Coca-Cola licenses other organisations across the world to dilute their formulated syrups, and to package their products.

In 2012, the global water consumption in Coca-Cola products exceeded that of Sweden, Denmark and Norway combined, enough to meet the annual cooking, cleaning and drinking water needs of over 2 billion people, over a quarter of the world’s population.*

It should be remembered that water in many parts of the world is scarce and/or isn’t potable. Indeed the cholera epidemic in 1850s London was caused by water contaminated by human sewage which led to fundamental changes in our water and waste systems. It’s likely even here in the UK there is latent prejudice against drinking tap water even though a year’s now safe supply is only £1 per person per year.

All cokes and most Coca-Cola products are carbonated — or ‘fizzy’ to use the British term. Despite fluoridisation of Birmingham’s water supply, there has been recent and dramatic increases in children’s tooth decay here. As well as sugar, fizzy water causes tooth decay and contributes to other health problems; see here.

* For more information about his, see Bartow Elmore’s recently published book Citizen Coke: The making of Coca-Cola capitalism; for this specific factoid, see endnote #1 on pp316-317.

[Featured image is by Lorena.]

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