Can Soft Drinks Poison You? (Jul, 1931)

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Can Soft Drinks Poison You?

Billions of bottles of beverages ate drunk in America each year—Analyzed by the Government Pure Food Board, harmful ingredients are kept out of them—This article tells why locally made drinks may prove injurious By GEORGE LEE DOWD, JR.

TO QUENCH the Great American Thirst, eleven billion bottles and glasses of soft drinks are consumed every year—enough to nil a giant bottle as wide at the base as a city block and twice as high as the Empire State Building, the world’s tallest structure! This means that, if you are a law-abiding citizen in good health between eight and eighty, you probably will drink an average of one glassful a day during the three hot summer months.

These sweet, fizzing liquids, pink, orange, green or amber, will cool your parched throat at the ball-game, at soda fountains, or at roadside hot-dog stands.

But what will they do to your health? Are they as wholesome and harmless as they look and taste?

In most cases, you may rest assured that they are. The Government sees to that. They are tested and approved (or condemned) by Government laboratory experts. Because soft drinks contain a small percentage of food value, they come under the control of the U. S. Food and Drug Administration. To enforce the Food and Drug Act, the Department of Agriculture maintains a staff of 530 administrative officers, chemists, and other specialists in Washington and sixteen other important cities. It is part of their job to analyze your soft drinks, even if they consist of nothing but charged water. Still, there remains a certain risk, but there are tell-tale signs by which you can distinguish a good drink from a possibly harmful one. Unfortunately, the Federal authorities, under the law, have control only over bottled beverages and syrups that are shipped from State to State, but lack the power to test those that are sold in the State where they are made. As State and other local laws on the subject either are sketchy or non-existent, the small local manufacturer often can let his conscience be his guide as to what he will put into his brew.

IN OTHER words, when you order a nationally distributed product, you will get a safe drink. Whether you stop for it at the humble roadside booth or at a marble soda palace in the city, makes no difference, except, possibly, in the price. But when you buy a locally made drink, and especially pink “lemonade” at a carnival, fair, or small circus, there is no way of telling with what horrible concoction you may assault the inner man How can you tell the difference when the stuff is in a bottle? The cap and label will show you at a glance whether the drink is Government tested or not.

For example, almost all fruit drinks contain artificial coloring. Cap or label will tell you whether or not any has been used in making your beverage. If it has. this is no indication of poor quality. Nor need you be frightened because it has been “artificially flavored.’” Both artificial colorings and flavorings must conform to the standards of the Food and Drug Administration. Sometimes, they are even beneficial.

A PECULIAR quirk in human nature is responsible for the use of these substances in most beverages. As a matter of fact, you would probably refuse a glass of your favorite fruit drink if they had been left out of it.

The reason is this: When the juice is crushed from strawberries, raspberries, grapes, and the like, it is cloudy because a fine residue from the fruit cells remains in it. Americans won’t buy a cloudy drink, and so the manufacturer strains the juice through a filter or treats it with a clarifying chemical, such as kaolin.

Either treatment clears the juice but robs it of much of the taste and flavor that make you like it. To replace them, the manufacturer has to resort to some harmless coloring and artificial flavoring. Fifty thousand pounds of coloring matter and five million pounds of fruit acid are annually used in this way. This increases the price of your drink, but you have your own prejudice to blame. There is no harm in cloudy fruit juice.

ANOTHER artificial process is brought • into play in the making of root beer. You like it rich and foamy? The manufacturer sees to it that you get it that way. The foam on root and birch beers and on sarsaparilla is a product of saponin called “gum foam.” Only one type of saponin is harmless or non-toxic. All other kinds cause diffusion of the hemoglobin, that is, the red coloring matter in the blood, and, consequently, anemia.

However, you may drink your favorite brand of root or birch beer or sarsaparilla with perfect peace of mind so long as it is the product of a national manufacturer,because the Food and Drug Administration considers drinks of this sort that contain toxic saponin as adulterations, and rules them out. Jealously guarding both your health and your pocket book, the Government insists on “realism” in the pictures on the labels. That does not mean that Uncle Sam sets himself up as an art critic. The authorities have laid down a hard and fast rule that the manufacturer of a fruit drink cannot display a picture of a fruit on his label unless the drink actually contains the juice of that fruit. All of this was set forth in a long Court opinion with the amusing title: “The United States of America vs Ninety-five Barrels (more or less) Apple Cider Vinegar”!

One manufacturer had been using a picture of an orange on his label for many years and describing his drink as containing the juices of oranges and orange peels. He was ordered either to change his label or add genuine fruit juices to his product. Rather than destroy the value of his established trade-mark, he is now spending more than $100,000 a year for the real juices.

Sharing the popularity of fruit juices, root beers, and other “soda pops,” are the cola drinks. Here is a question thousands have been asking for years: Do they really contain a narcotic? They do, but very little of it. In addition to sweetening, acids, and carbonated water, they contain the juices of the coca leaf and the cola nut. For the leaves the manufacturers have to send to South America, while the nuts come all the way from Africa. And all that to give you that little “kick” in your drink!

THE coca leaf contains morphine, but this is removed before its juice gets into the syrup. It is the cola nut that provides the slight stimulant—caffein, a narcotic. The question whether caffein is a habit-forming drug or not is still up in the air. In any case, the average bottle or glass of the drink containing it holds only about one-half grain, considerably less than the quantity in an ordinary cup of coffee, tea, or cocoa.

But the caffein in a cola drink does not always come from the juice of the cola nut. Sometimes it is derived from coffee, tea, or cocoa. One manufacturer of such a drink is said to be the largest importer of tea sweepings in the United States.

Are soft drinks nutritious? Do they actually stimulate? May they be taken without fear of harmful effects?

These three questions J. W. Sale, chemist in charge of the Water and Beverage Laboratory of the Food and Drug Administration in Washington, answers with an emphatic “yes,” provided, of course, that the beverages are of the Government-controlled variety.

All soft drinks contain these ingredients, or most of them: Sugar, fruit juice, acid, carbon dioxide, water, artificial coloring, artificial flavoring. Then, the cola drinks contain caffein, the ginger ales ginger, and the root drinks saponin or some harmless equivalent.

To begin with sugar, of which 250,000 tons are used in soft drinks each year, nothing but the best quality will do for making syrups, because anything else would cause the finished drink to spoil soon after bottling. Its food value averages between 58 and 175 calories, a higher caloric content than that of many foods recommended by nutrition experts. By the action of the acids in the finished syrup, the sugar is changed to “invert sugar,” meaning that it is broken down so it can be absorbed more readily by the system.

THAT is why a good drink at a soda fountain not only quenches your thirst, but also renews your energy supply, and does it so quickly. But if sugar generates energy, why does it not also generate enough heat to offset the good effect on a hot day? The answer is that the amount of heat is so small compared to the energy generated that you do not notice it.

The ice in your drink, by the way, helps little to cool you off, and is put into it merely to make it taste better. It is dissipated almost immediately by the heat of the body, which cannot digest anything of a temperature either lower or higher than its own. For some reason, Americans like their beverages either ice-cold or piping hot. This national predeliction is a never-failing source of wonder to European inn-keepers, as returned travelers, exhausted by a vain search for ice water, will testify.

Fruit juices generally constitute about fifteen per cent of the volume of a drink. To them are added fruit acid and color. These fruit juices are said by experts to be just as beneficial in a soft drink as they are in any other form.

Finally, there is the “carbonated water,” the essential part of all soft drinks that are not “ades” of one kind or another. Four hundred million gallons of it go into them a year! This is simply water charged with carbon dioxide gas, which gives it its bubbles. In connection with this “fizz water,” there has arisen one of the numerous fallacies believed by many about soft beverages.

This is the old “marble dust” story, that still survives. To this day, some people will take you aside, and solemnly warn you against “soda pop” because “it has marble dust in it.”

THERE isn’t a speck of marble dust in any soft drink, and there never was. But, like many yarns of the sort, it started with a half-truth. The fact is that carbon dioxide gas originally was produced by the action of sulphuric acid upon marble. As gas was released, it was collected and then shipped to the buyer. Word of the process got around, and imagination did the rest.

However, it is possible for carbon dioxide to contain various injurious sulphur compounds when it is made from coke, limestone, or products of the fermentation of low-grade saccharines. Fortunately, gas of such origin gives drinks an unpleasant taste, which eliminates it from use in their manufacture.

Still, there is one danger of which even the maker of syrups himself may not be aware, and which is difficult and sometimes impossible to detect chemically. That is the presence in carbonated water of minute metallic particles from vessels and pipelines used in manufacturing it.

In one case of this kind, the Department of Chemistry discovered 3.3 grains of zinc chloride in one bottle of root beer sent in for examination. A man who had drunk some of the stuff had been made very sick, though not seriously. The only cure for this trouble is to keep the charged water away from such metals as much as possible.

Carbonated water that contains pure carbon dioxide, properly made, is actually good for you. Carbon dioxide is not only stimulating, but kills certain types of harmful bacteria in the large intestine.

THERE are some places where it is never safe to take a soft drink—the carnival, the small circus, and the country fair. These places are infested with hawkers presiding over stands, usually out in the dust-laden air, who invite you to “wet your whistle” from a huge punch-bowl and, more often, a doubtfully clean tin tub. It is filled to the brim with a pale pink liquid in which a few forlorn and tired looking lemons are floating.

Keep away from such stuff. You wouldn’t buy a bottle of orangeade that had a cloudy appearance. You would return to the soda clerk a bottle of “pop” in which you saw a black dust particle. But at the fair, all is gaiety and excitement; you don’t care!

It is this mental attitude of which the hawker takes shrewd advantage. He makes you pay him several thousand percent on his investment. He makes you swallow enough real dirt from the trampled midway to cause you to fire the cook if you found it in your spinach. He makes you believe this mixture is “lemonade.”

He buys it in powder form from houses that sell carnival equipment wholesale. In any carnival trade magazine you will find this powder advertised—not as lemon or orange powder. Oh, no. That would get the wholesaler in trouble with the Food and Drug Administration. It is cleverly advertised as “fruit flavor,” and is shipped to the buyer as such. He mixes about two dollars’ worth of it with thirty gallons of water from the nearest faucet (or from the buckets used to water the elephants), adds a few slices of real lemon for effect, a quarter’s worth of ice, and sells it as “lemonade” at ten cents a glass.

You can readily see that the Food and Drug Administration is powerless to stop this racket. There has been no misrepresentation, misbranding, or mislabeling of a product shipped from one State to another. All misrepresentation has taken place locally.

PROHIBITION, of course, has greatly increased the consumption of soft drinks. But a paradoxical feature of the situation is that each and every one of them contains alcohol. This is because the flavoring extracts are almost insoluble in water, but readily soluble in alcohol. Therefore, alcohol is used to dissolve them, and some of it remains in the drinks. But even if you are a confirmed Dry, you can take your “soda pop” with a clear conscience, for the residue of alcohol is not sufficient to constitute anything approaching a violation of the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act.

Also, whether you are a Dry or a Wet, you may drink your “pop,” or whatever it is you like, without fear for your health. The Government watches out for its purity, and it is to the maker’s advantage that it should be wholesome so that you, like Oliver Twist, will come back for “more.”

6 comments
  1. Blurgle says: April 19, 200812:22 am

    Do non-law-abiding citizens drink more?

  2. William Deering says: April 19, 20084:25 am

    I would like to see an updated report as easy to understand on today’s soft drinks. Most interesting and maybe of high interest to everyone as it is to me.

  3. jon says: April 19, 20086:30 pm

    Blurgle: At the time this article was published, non-law-abiding citizens drank alcohol!

  4. Blurgle says: April 19, 20086:33 pm

    Good point!

  5. KA Turner says: April 19, 20087:53 pm

    I wish that bottled water manufacturers were forced to divulge the exact origin of their water- be it well water, a spring, or the municipal water supply and from exactly where (or furnish this information to the FDA). There is so much controversy over the purity and wholesomeness of bottled water.

  6. jimmybean says: April 21, 20082:45 pm

    phosphates, and polyphosphates in soda are a kinda poison/ drug, they don’t preserve taste or freshness or add to taste or freshness yet that chemical drug remains. phosphorous is naturally a poison, when oxygen is added to make it phosphate, the chemical now remains in your blood stream and influences brain activity see pepsi and coke

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