When I saw the ad for Coca-Cola Life, I was pretty sure the colour on my TV had died. Nope. Coca-Cola Life is green. I haven’t drank Coca-Cola in years, but this intrigued me. Is this meant to be a health product? The colour and name would suggest so; and even if this isn’t a ‘healthy drink’, one could easily surmise it is meant to be a healthy alternative to traditional Coca-Cola. I do love fizzy drinks, so I immediately set about to investigate.
WHAT IS COCA-COLA LIFE?
Coca-Cola Life is advertised as a ‘Reduced Calorie Cola’ that is sweetened with sugar and stevia leaf extract. It is also lower in calories than standard Coke – about 90 calories per 12 for oz, which is the amount in a standard sized can. The ingredients in Coca-Cola Life are:
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Caffeine (28 mg)
Stevia leaf extract
LET’S BREAKDOWN THOSE INGREDIENTS
The ‘bubbles’ are simply caused by plain water infused with carbon dioxide. On its own, carbonated water is pretty harmless.
This is just a fancier name for our sweet friend sugar. Is it better for you than high fructose corn syrup? Yes. Sugar or cane sugar is usually made from sugar beets or sugar cane and isn’t considered harmful unless you consume a large amount over a long period of time.
Verdict: Safe in small amounts
This one is sneaky. It’s food colouring made by heating sugar, and can be processed with ammonia and sulfur to intensify the color. The International Agency for Research on Cancer determined the chemical to be “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.
Verdict: Avoid this one. (Due to that part about it potentially causing cancer.)
Well this one is complicated. Natural flavors are very similar to artificial flavors, but the flavors are coming from natural sources rather than synthetic. Essentially, the original ingredient from nature is purified and extracted, then added back into the food. This doesn’t mean there are smooshed bananas in your drink- it means a chemical found in that banana has been taken, enhanced, and added to your food. The real danger here is in inciting cravings for foods which do not have whole-food, nutritious flavor counterparts. In other words, natural and artificial flavors are delicious and without them we probably wouldn’t eat any junk food. Check out this CNN article for more about Natural flavors.
Verdict: Safe, but be warned for the addictive qualities.
A.K.A. phosphates; this is used as an acid and flavoring in many foods, and fortunately, phosphate itself is needed by the body for the kidneys, intestines, and bones, although consuming too much can have negative effects. A study done by Tufts University found that women who drank cola regularly had a low calcium-to-phosphorus ratio, and a lower bone mineral density. This could suggest that drinking colas can lead to a mineral imbalance in the body due to the phosphoric acid content.
Verdict: Generally safe if not consumed regularly or in large doses
This is a chemical preservative that blocks the growth of some bacteria, yeast and mold. Specific chemical reactions can convert benzoate into benzene, a far more harmful compound that, according to the American Cancer Society, is considered carcinogenic (Can cause cancer or encourage cancer growth) Soft drinks that contain potassium benzoate and vitamin C can have a chemical reaction that results in residual amounts of benzene. (Coca-Cola Life contains Stevia, which has vitamin C)
Verdict: Avoid or strictly limit consumption (Again, that whole ‘carcinogenic’ thing is not good)
Caffeine, which is added as a flavoring agent, is associated with a slew of health problems. It’s a natural diuretic and leaches calcium from the bones, thus consumption has been linked to calcium loss and decreased bone mineral density. Studies have also linked caffeine to abnormal heart rhythms, stroke, heart disease, and a ton of others. Caffeine also increases cortisol levels (the ‘stress hormone’), and can cause heart palpitations and insomnia in people who are sensitive to caffeine.
Verdict: Safe in small doses; the general consensus is that consuming less than 400mg a day is safe.
Stevia Leaf Extract
Stevia leaf is a low-calorie, sweet plant that is thought to have many health benefits like improving blood-sugar response, protecting DNA, and improving immune system function. Stevia leaf extract, however, is a bit different. We’re talking about an ‘extract’ here; not the whole, unprocessed leaf. Unfortunately, this is usually done by a chemical extraction process. Fortunately, this is still an excellent sweetener; although it’s unclear how much of it is actually in a can of Coca-Cola Life.
COCA-COLA LIFE vs COCA-COLA
If we compare both the standard Coke, and Coca-Cola Life, the two drinks aren’t all that different. The standard 12 fl oz can of Coke has 140 calories per can and contains roughly the same ingredients:
Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, phosphoric acid, natural flavors, and 34 mg of caffeine.
Thus, the only major difference between the two colas is that the original Coca Cola contains high fructose corn syrup, a sweetener derived from corn that comes with a slew of chemicals used during the manufacturing process which end up in our food; and this is replaced by cane sugar, stevia leaf extract, and potassium benzoate in Coca Cola Life.
FINAL VERDICT: IS COCA-COLA LIFE HEALTHY?
No. It’s not a health drink, but to be fair it never claims to be. It’s easy to assume it’s a health drink from the green colour, addition of stevia leaf extract, and low calories, but it does not claim to be healthy, nor should it. If you love Coca-Cola but you want something healthier, this might be a step in the right direction for you, but there are other great options out there for cola drinks that have healthier ingredients.
If it’s that unique Coca-Cola taste you’re after, you might be outta luck with a truly healthy option; but remember- the key is moderation. Many of the ingredients in Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola Life are safe when consumed in small amounts that your body can handle, so don’t overload yourself, and drink lots of water to counteract the diuretic effects of the caffeine, and you’ll be fine.
Deanna M. Minich, PhD., C.N. An A-Z Guide To Food Additives.
San Francisco: Conari Press, 2009. Print.
Elson Haas, Buck Levin. Staying Healthy with Nutrition.
New York: TenSpeed Press, 2006. Print.
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