As I sat down to write this week’s article with a can of cold, refreshing, sugar-free, zero-calorie Coke Zero, I decided to take a look at the debate raging over the ban on the size of sodas in New York City. Going forward, New Yorkers will have to buy their sodas in quantities of 16 ounces or less if Mayor Bloomberg gets his way. Supporters feel that this is a proactive step by government to protect us from an unhealthful product that is causing a spike in healthcare costs while detractors feel it is no more than “nanny state” activities by the over-reaching hand of government. Bloomberg cited the contribution of sugar to obesity, a condition that is responsible for most Type II diabetes, 70% of cardiovascular disease, 42% of breast and colon cancers and 30% of gall bladder surgeries. The American Heart Association guidelines on daily sugar intake are 36 grams for an adult man, 20 grams for a woman and 12 grams for a child. The average American consumes 90 grams of sugar daily.

I do not know how anyone can get around the fact that this is government intrusion on one selective product which contributes toward obesity. While one 20 ounce Coca-Cola has 240 calories and 65 grams of sugar, a 24 ounce RockStar Energy Drink has 660 calories and 60 grams of sugar, a simple 12 ounce McDonald’s Strawberry Shake has 570 calories and 79 grams of sugar, a medium Dairy Queen Cookie Dough Blizzard 1,020 calories and 108 grams of sugar and a double chocolatey Frappucino at Starbuck’s has 520 calories and 52 grams of sugar. A 16 ounce orange juice has 220 calories and 48g of sugar while a 5.6 ounce strawberry margarita has 360 calories and 23 grams of sugar. Surely all of these should be banned. What about candy bars and other sugary confections?

While Bloomberg may be well intentioned, shouldn’t he and the rest of government be focused on things like safety and jobs? If the real concern is over obesity, shouldn’t he be focused on the high fat, calorie and sodium content of countless items served everyday at most food establishments in America?

This debate avoids me as I like the sugar-free, no calorie version of the offending beverage. That isn’t bad for me…or is it? My fifth grade daughter vehemently disagreed so I took a closer look at the label of ingredients on my Coke Zero.


Phosphoric acid is the stuff that breaks down rust. In humans, it breaks down calcium which is important to strong bones and teeth while causing kidney problems in some. Okay, no problem, I will take a calcium supplement to offset my Coke Zero intake. What else? Aspartame causes cancer in rats, or so says the European Ramazzini Foundation. Many experts believe that it plays a role for some in the onset of Alzeimer and Parkinson Diseases. A good thing about Coke Zero is that it has half the aspartame of Diet Coke. Additionally, the quantities needed to induce cancer in rats was so large that I am not not worried. The same can be said for the potassium benzoate that is used to keep the crisp flavor consistent. Potassium benzoate is the same stuff that we are exposed to from the exhaust of your car.

Coke Zero uses less aspartame because of its use or acesulfame potassium or Ace K which is 200x sweeter than sugar and used to offset the lower aspartame levels. The problem with Ace K is that it contains methylene choride, a known carcinogen that causes headaches, depression, nausea, mental confusion, liver, kidney and vision problems in addition to cancers such as breast and colon. Yikes.

Potassium Citrate isn’t too bad as it helps break down kidney stones, something a frequent soda drinker has a heightened risk of. That said, it is to be avoided if you have kidney problems, a urinary tract infection or if you are dehydrated – a bit of a problem in a “refreshment”. Also, pregnant woman are warned to avoid this ingredient as it can be harmful to unborn babies. Sodium benzoate reduces potassium in your body and can cause asthma and eczema while another ingredient, phenylalaine, causes people with PKU, (phenylketonurics) serious health risks. While this ingredient occurs naturally in milk, eggs and beef, people taking anti-depressants or having Parkinson’s disease, a sleep, anxiety disorder or other mental health issue are advised strongly to limit their exposure phenylalaine.

Until this year, most products with caramel for coloring used Caramel E150d, a product that inhibits the metabolism of the vitamin B6 while reducing white blood cell count and cancer in animals. As E150d is cosmetic and not critical to flavor, when the FDA suggested that manufacturers replace this ingredient or label the soda with a cancer warning label, the drinks were quickly reformulated. Caramel E150d is still contained in other products like soy sauce though without the warning label. Another ingredient found in many sodas but not Coke Zero is BPA or bisphenyl-A – carcinogen that can problems with the endocrine system including premature puberty and reproductive issues.

A 2008 study published in the Obesity Journal concluded that the problem with the diet drinks is that they enhance appetite which causes weight gain. Mayor Bloomberg’s war on sugar and obesity will probably cause more people to drink products like my Coke Zero. The well-intentioned but overreaching law will most likely cause increases in obesity and the ingestion of even worse compounds – an outcome that Bloomberg most certainly was not looking for.

My daughter has more sense than Bloomberg and most Americans when it comes to soda – just avoid it and drink things like water. You don’t need the intervention of Big Government – even a ten year-old knows that.

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