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Soft drink

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Background Information

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A soft drink is a beverage, often carbonated, that does not contain alcohol. (Carbonated soft drinks are more commonly known as pop, soda, or soda pop in parts of the United States and Canada, or fizzy drinks in the U.K.; sometimes called minerals in Ireland) The name "soft drink" specifies a lack of alcohol by way of contrast to the term "hard drink". The term "drink", while nominally neutral, often carries connotations of alcoholic content. Beverages like colas, sparkling water, iced tea, lemonade, squash, and fruit punch are among the most common types of soft drinks, while hot chocolate, hot tea, coffee, milk, tap water, alcohol, and milkshakes do not fall into this classification. Many carbonated soft drinks are optionally available in versions sweetened with sugars or with non-caloric sweeteners.

Soft drinks on supermarket shelves.


In the US, soft drinks are sold in two-liter bottles, 24 and 20 US fluid ounce bottles, 12 US fluid ounce cans, and short 8 ounce cans. They are packaged in a variety of quantities such as six packs, 12 packs and cases of 24, 36, and 360. In The Netherlands, 1.5 liter bottles, 500 mL and 350 mL bottles and cans are more common. With the advent of energy drinks sold in 8 ounce cans in the USA, some soft drinks are now sold in similarly sized cans. It is also common for carbonated soft drinks to be served as fountain drinks in which carbonation is added to a concentrate immediately prior to serving. In Europe, various systems are in use: plastic and glass bottles of sizes 2, 1.5, 1, 0.5, 0.35, 0.33 liters and aluminium cans of 0.33, 0.35, and 0.25 liters. Several countries have standard recycled packaging with a forfeit such as 0.15 euro: the bottles are smelted and reused, cans are crushed and sold as scrap aluminium.

In Australia soft drinks are usually sold in 375mL cans or glass or plastic bottles. Bottles are usually 390mL, 600mL, 1.25L or 2L. However, 1.5L bottles have more recently been used by the Coca-Cola Company.

Naming conventions

Mixed soft drinks

Many people mix soft drinks, usually from a soda fountain, to combine flavor. Nicknames have been given to this concept of mixing soft-drinks by those who do it, among them are suicide, graveyard, sewage, pop bomb, swamp water, tornado, kamikaze, garbage soda, hurricane, coketopia, atomic bomb, ghetto juice, splat or garbage can. For instance if someone was to mix the soft drink Fanta with the popular soft drink Hi-C one will have the resulting nicknamed combination called Fanta-C pronounced like fantasy.


A float is created by dropping a scoop of ice cream into a soft drink. In the mid-western United States, a soft drink with ice cream added is most often called an " ice cream soda," or soda, for short as they were made at soda fountains. In Australia and New Zealand, this is known as a Spider. In Scotland (Mainly West) this is sometimes referred to as an "iced drink" or an "ice-cream soda" (for example a "coke soda" or a "coke ice cream soda"). The most common of these is the Root beer float.

In Brazil, a scoop of ice cream into a soft drink may have different names:

  • vaca preta (black cow): ice cream in cola
  • vaca amarela (yellow cow): ice cream in guaraná-flavoured soft drink
  • pantera cor de rosa ( the Pink Panther): strawberry ice cream in lemon-lime soft drink

In Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, there is a regional variation: Cola (regardless of brand) and vanilla ice cream constitute a "coke afloat".

In the U.S., some floats have specific names as a Black Cow, Brown Cow, or Purple Cow, which is vanilla or chocolate ice cream in root beer, or Boston Cooler, which is vanilla ice cream in Vernor's ginger ale.


Nutritional value of non-diet soft drinks

Until the 1980s, soft drinks obtained nearly all of their food energy in the form of refined cane sugar or corn syrup. Today high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is used nearly exclusively as a sweetener because of its lower cost. However, HFCS has been criticized as having a number of detrimental effects on human health, such as promoting diabetes, hyperactivity, hypertension, and a host of other problems. Although anecdotal evidence has been presented to support such claims, it is well known that the human body breaks sucrose down into glucose and fructose before it is absorbed by the intestines. Furthermore, simple sugars such as fructose are rapidly converted into the same intermediates as in glucose metabolism.

While the USDA recommended daily allotment ( RDA) of added sugars is 10 teaspoons for a 2,000- calorie diet, many soft drinks contain more than this amount. Unless fortified, they also contain little to no vitamins, minerals, fibre, protein, or other essential nutrients. Many soft drinks contain food additives such as food colouring, artificial flavouring, emulsifiers, and preservatives, which some consumers find objectionable.

Soft drinks may also displace other healthier choices in people's diets, such as water, milk, and fruit juice.

Studies showing a correlation between non-diet soft drinks and obesity

A study from Harvard shows that soft drinks may be responsible for the doubling of obesity in children in the United States over the last 15 years.

From 1991 and 1995, adolescent boys in the US, on average, increased their intake of soft drinks from 345 mL to 570 mL. Most soft drinks are sweetened with sugar or corn syrup, and not artificial sweeteners. Dr. David Ludwig of the Boston Children's Hospital showed that school children drinking at least eight U.S. fluid ounces (240 mL) or more of regularly sweetened drinks daily will consume 835 calories (3,500 kilojoules) more than those avoiding soft drinks; i.e., children who drink soft drinks loaded with sugar tend to eat much more food than those who avoid soft drinks. Either those taking sugared drinks lack the same restraint on foods, or sugared drinks cause a rise in insulin that makes adolescents more hungry, causing them to eat more. Soft drinks (including diet soft drinks) are also typically consumed with other high-calorie foods such as fast food. Children who drink soft drinks regularly are therefore fatter on average, in addition to being more likely to develop diabetes later in life (see below).

This finding is controversial, because children in much of the Third World also consume large numbers of soft drinks with even more sugar, and do not share the same obesity rates as American children, suggesting that other factors are involved aside from sugar consumption in soft drinks. Suggested factors include physical activity, and the fact that American soft drinks are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup instead of cane sugar.

In March 2006, Pediatrics published a paper Effects of Decreasing Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption on Body Weight in Adolescents: A Randomized, Controlled Pilot Study. This suggests that reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages helped reduce body mass index in the heaviest teenagers. This was reported as drinking as a single 330ml can a day of sugary drinks translated to more than 1lb of weight gain every month.

Soft drinks linked to weight gain and type 2 diabetes

In 2004, an eight-year study of 50,000 nurses showed a correlation that suggests drinking one or more sugar-sweetened beverages (such as soft drinks and fruit punches) per day increases one's risk of developing diabetes by 80% versus those who drink less than one such drink per month. This finding was independent of other lifestyle factors. It concludes, "Higher consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with a greater magnitude of weight gain and an increased risk for development of type 2 diabetes in women, possibly by providing excessive calories and large amounts of rapidly absorbable sugars.".

Soft drinks and teeth

Most soft drinks contain high concentration of simple carbohydrates - glucose, fructose, sucrose and other simple sugars. Oral bacteria ferment carbohydrates and produce acid, which dissolves tooth enamel during the dental decay process; thus, sweetened beverages are likely to increase risk of dental caries. The risk is greater if the frequency of consumption is high.

A large number of soft drinks are acidic and some may have a pH of 3.0 or even lower. Drinking acidic drinks over a long period of time and continuous sipping can therefore erode the tooth enamel. Drinking through a straw is often advised by dentists as the drink is then swallowed from the back of the mouth and does not come into contact with the teeth. It has also been suggested that brushing teeth right after drinking soft drinks should be avoided as this can result in additional erosion to the teeth due to the presence of acid.

Soft drinks and sleep

According to one report, soft drinks with caffeine can disrupt children's sleep and leave them feeling tired during the day.

Soft drinks and bones

There has been a hypothesis that the phosphoric acid contained in some soft drinks (colas) displaces calcium from the bones, lowering bone density of the skeleton and leading to conditions such as osteoporosis and very weak bones. However, calcium metabolism studies by leading calcium and bone expert Dr. Robert Heaney determined that the net effect of carbonated soft drinks, (including colas, which use phosphoric acid as the acidulant) on calcium retention was negligible. He concluded that it is likely that colas prominence in observational studies is due to their prominence in the marketplace, and that the real issue is that people who drink a lot of soft drinks also tend to have an overall diet that is low in calcium. (Source: Heaney RP, Rafferty K. Carbonated beverages and urinary calcium excretion. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2001,74:;343-347.)


In recent years, debate on whether soft drink vending machines should be allowed in school has been on the rise. Proponents believe that soft drinks are a significant contributor to childhood obesity and tooth decay, and that allowing soft drink sales in schools encourages children to believe they are safe to consume in moderate to large quantities. Proponents note that children are not always mature enough to understand the consequences of their own food choices, and should not be routinely exposed to the temptation of cheap, readily available soft drinks. They also argue that schools have a responsibility to look after the health of the children in their care, and that allowing children easy access to soft drinks violates that responsibility. Opponents believe that obesity is a complex issue and soft drinks are not the only cause. They also note the immense amount of funding soft drink sales bring to schools. Some people take the middle ground, saying that soft drink machines should be allowed in schools, but that they should not be the only option available. They propose that when soft drink vending machines are made available in school grounds, the schools should be required to provide children with a choice of alternative drinks (such as fruit juice, flavoured water and milk) at a comparable price. However, fruit drinks may contain as much sugar as the soft drinks they replace.

On 3 May 2006, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Cadbury Schweppes, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the American Beverage Association announced new School Beverage Guidelines that will voluntarily remove high-calorie soft drinks from all US schools.

On 19 May 2006, UK Education Secretary Alan Johnson announced new minimum nutrition standards for school food. Amongst a wide range of measures, from September 2006, school lunches will be free from carbonated drinks. Schools will also end the sale of junk food (including carbonated drinks) in vending machines and tuck shops. See the Department for Education and Skills press notice for details.

In August 2006, after a controversial new report about the presence of pesticides in soft drinks sold in India, many state governments have issued a ban of the sale of soft drinks in schools. Kerala has issued a complete ban on the sale or manufacture of soft drinks altogether. In return, the soft drink companies like Coca Cola and Pepsi have issued ads in the media regarding the safety of consumption of the drinks. Since there is yet no enforcement of the agreed standards by Bureau of Indian Standards, the governing body to oversee the safety levels, in soft drinks in India, it is to be seen how this situation is to be resolved.

Carcinogens in soft drinks

Benzene is a known carcinogen, or cancer-causing agent. Major soft drink companies have had documentation of benzene contamination in soft drinks since at least 1990. It was originally thought that the contamination was caused by contaminated carbon dioxide, but research has shown that benzoates and ascorbic acid or erythorbic acid can react to produce benzene. (Gardner & Lawrence, 1993).

In 2006, the United Kingdom Food Standards Agency published the results of its survey of benzene levels in soft drinks, which tested 150 products and found that four contained benzene levels above the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for drinking water. The agency asked for these to be removed from sale. The United States Food and Drug Administration released its own test results of several soft drinks and beverages containing benzoates and ascorbic or erythorbic acid. Five tested beverages contained benzene levels above the Environmental Protection Agency's recommended standard of 5 ppb. The Environmental Working Group has uncovered additional FDA test results that showed the following results: Of 24 samples of diet soda tested between 1995 and 2001 for the presence of benzene, 19 (79%) had amounts of benzene in excess of the federal tap water standard of 5 ppb. Average benzene levels were 19 ppb, about four times tap water standard. One sample contained 55 ppb of benzene, 11 fold tap water standards. Despite these findings, as of 2006, the FDA stated its belief that "the levels of benzene found in soft drinks and other beverages to date do not pose a safety concern for consumers".

Quinine, the bittering component of mixer drinks present at 60 to 80 ppm as the dihydrochloride or sulphate, undergoes photolytic degradation in strong sunlight through clear glass, typically with a half-life (i.e. time for 50% of the chemical to degrade) of 3.5 hours in strong sunlight. From its chemical structure the degradation product is suspected to be carcinogenic and is devoid of the bitter taste of quinine. For that reason quinine-containing drinks should never be stored in sunlight. Quinine is used as a bittering agent because of its clean bitter taste, devoid of any lingering after-effects. Other bittering agents are available such as quassia, also a natural product extracted from the Quassia Amara tree and sometimes used as a bittering agent in soft drinks. Its bitter attribute is exploited as a substitute for hops that provides the bitter flavour in beers (Dictionary of Science and Technology Academic Press 1992,p 1772).

Alcohol content

A report in October 2006 demonstrates that some soft drinks contain measurable amounts of alcohol. In some older preparations, this resulted from natural fermentation used to build the carbonation. Modern drinks use introduced carbon dioxide but alcohol might result from fermentation of sugars in an unsterile environment. A small amount of alcohol is introduced to at least some soft drinks where alcohol is used in the preparation of the flavoring extracts. The Turkish soft drink manufacturer whose product was listed as highest in alcohol in the October 2006 study noted that the naturally occurring alcohol level in yogurt is 1.5 times higher than that found in their soft drink.

History of soft drinks

Soft drinks trace their history back to the mineral waters found in natural springs. Ancient societies believed that bathing in natural springs and/or drinking mineral waters could cure many diseases. Early scientists who studied mineral waters included Paracelsus, Robert Boyle, Friedrich Hoffmann, Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, Hermann Boerhaave, William Brownrigg, Gabriel F. Venel, Joseph Black, and David Macbride.

The first marketed soft drinks (non-carbonated) appeared in the 17th century. They were made from water and lemon juice sweetened with honey. In 1676, the Compagnie des Limonadiers of Paris was granted a monopoly for the sale of lemonade soft drinks. Vendors carried tanks of lemonade on their backs and dispensed cups of the soft drink to thirsty Parisians.

Carbonated beverages

In the 1770s, scientists made important progress in replicating naturally carbonated mineral waters. Englishman Joseph Priestley impregnated distilled water with carbon dioxide. Another Englishman, John Mervin Nooth, improved Priestley's design and sold his apparatus for commercial use in pharmacies. Swedish chemist Torbern Bergman invented a generating apparatus that made carbonated water from chalk by the use of sulfuric acid. Bergman's apparatus allowed imitation mineral water to be produced in large amounts.

Soda fountain pioneers

Artificial mineral waters, usually called "soda water," and the soda fountain made the biggest splash in the United States. Beginning in 1806, Yale chemistry professor Benjamin Silliman sold soda waters in New Haven, Connecticut. He used a Nooth apparatus to produce his waters. Businessmen in Philadelphia and New York City also began selling soda water in the early 1800s. In the 1830s, John Matthews of New York City and John Lippincott of Philadelphia began manufacturing soda fountains. Both men were successful and built large factories for fabricating fountains.

Soda Fountains vs. Bottled Sodas

The drinking of either natural or artificial mineral water was considered a healthy practice. The American pharmacists selling mineral waters began to add herbs and chemicals to unflavored mineral water. They used birch bark (see birch beer), dandelion, sarsaparilla, fruit extracts, and other substances. Flavorings were also added to improve the taste. Pharmacies with soda fountains became a popular part of American culture. Many Americans frequented the soda fountain on a daily basis. Due to problems in the U.S. glass industry, bottled drinks were a small portion of the market in the 19th century. Most soft drinks were dispensed and consumed at a soda fountain, usually in a drugstore or ice cream parlor. In the early 20th century, sales of bottled soda increased exponentially. In the second half of the 20th century, canned soft drinks became an important share of the market.

Soft drink bottling industry

Over 1,500 U.S. patents were filed for either a cork, cap, or lid for the carbonated drink bottle tops during the early days of the bottling industry. Carbonated drink bottles are under a lot of pressure from the gas. Inventors were trying to find the best way to prevent the carbon dioxide or bubbles from escaping. In 1892, the "Crown Cork Bottle Seal" was patented by William Painter, a Baltimore machine shop operator. It was the first very successful method of keeping the bubbles in the bottle.

Automatic production of glass bottles

In 1899, the first patent was issued for a glass-blowing machine for the automatic production of glass bottles. Earlier glass bottles had all been hand-blown. Four years later, the new bottle-blowing machine was in operation. It was first operated by the inventor, Michael Owens, an employee of Libby Glass Company. Within a few years, glass bottle production increased from 1,500 bottles a day to 57,000 bottles a day.

Hom-Paks and vending machines

During the 1920s, the first "Hom-Paks" were invented. "Hom-Paks" are the familiar six-pack beverage carrying cartons made from cardboard. Automatic vending machines also began to appear in the 1920s. The soft drink had become an American mainstay.

Non-alcoholic beverage

Non-alcoholic beverages are drinks that would normally contain alcohol, such as beer and wine but are made with no more than .5 percent alcohol by volume. The category includes drinks that have undergone an alcohol removal process such as non-alcoholic beers and de-alcoholized wines.

Non-alcoholic mixed drinks

Non-alcoholic mixed drinks (including punches, "virgin cocktails", or "mocktails") are often consumed by children, people whose religion restricts alcohol consumption, recovering alcoholics, and anyone wishing to enjoy flavorful drinks without alcohol. Examples include Virgin Mary and Shirley Temple cocktails.

Non-alcoholic beer

Low-alcohol beer (also, non-alcoholic beer, small beer, small ale and near-beer) is beer with very low or no alcohol content. The vast majority of low alcohol beers are lagers, but there are to a lesser extent some ales.

In the United States, beverages containing up to 0.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) can be legally called non-alcoholic according to the Volstead Act.

In the UK the following descriptions apply by law (correct at May 2007):

No alcohol/alcohol free: not more than 0.05% ABV
Dealcoholised: over 0.05% but not more than 0.5% ABV
Low alcohol: not more than 1.2% ABV

In the rest of the European Union, it must be not more than 0.5% ABV to be described as alcohol free.

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