Stop Whinging: You Don't Even Need Sugar in Your Coke

By Tom Pritchard on at

A couple of days ago we found out that the government is going to start taxing sugary drinks. Naturally there have been a number of people outraged by this development. How dare the government try and make them pay more for their sugar-filled cans of Coke?! Well here I am to tell you a bit of difficult news. You don't need to have sugar in your Coke at all, so you can easily get past the whole problem.

WTF is the Sugar Tax Anyway?

Basically, the sugar tax is a new thing the government is going to start doing in an attempt to curb obesity, type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay. It's aimed at drinks with high sugar content, and it means if you go out and buy them the government will pocket some extra cash. Last year, when this was first announced, then-chancellor George Osborne estimated that tax could bring in an extra £520 million of revenue. That's peanuts compared to some, but every little bit helps.

The tax only applies to drinks that have extra sugar added to them, which means pure fruit juices are exempt. Also exempt are drinks with high levels of milk, due to the extra calcium contained within. Other than that, every drink with more than five grams of sugar per 100ml will start costing more. Every drink with more than five grams of sugar per 100ml will cost an extra 18p for every litre of drink, while drinks with more than eight grams per 100ml will cost an extra 24p per litre. That means a 500ml bottle of Coke is going to cost an extra 12p, while a two litre bottle (not that they sell Coke in those anymore) would cost 48p more than it does today.

Chancellor Phillip Hammond says that the money raised will go to the Department for Education, to be spent on school sports. So that's another bonus.

But the Nanny State Can't Tell Me What To Do!

No it can't, which is probably why nobody has decided to ban sugary drinks. Nothing will stop you from going out and buying regular Coke (or Pepsi, or whatever you prefer), the only difference is that it's going to cost you more. Governments are quite good at earning money by taxing things they don't think you should be doing. Just look at how much tax you'll pay on booze in Singapore, and you'll see what I mean.

If you want to carry on, then so be it. This kind of thing is designed to hit people in the wallets so they change their habits, and for those that don't the government gets to make some extra bank.

Why Isn't This Affecting Fruit Juice? That Has Sugar in it As Well!

One of these things is not like the other

It does. Quite a lot, in fact, but this tax is only for drinks that have over a certain amount of extra-added sugar. The sugar in pure fruit juice is all natural and doesn't need any more added to it. But just because it's fruit doesn't mean it's good for you. In the past fruit juice was seen as a healthy alternative, presumably because fruit is good for you.

But experts are saying that fruit juice can be just as bad for you as things like Coke, because drinking juice isn't the same thing as eating a piece of fruit. The fibre in a piece of fruit slows down how quickly your body absorbs the accompanying sugars, but by juicing or blending you end up breaking it up (or removing it all together). Because of this, your body ends up absorbing all the sugar in one go - just as it would with a can of Coke.

So why the tax doesn't affect things like smoothies is beyond me. Probably because the perception is that something fruit-based is healthy, whereas nobody claim the same about a bottle of Coke.

But Diet Drinks Taste Disgusting!

I know from personal experience that adjusting to diet drinks is quite difficult. Throughout my childhood, sugary drinks were banned at home, because my parents were dentists. For that reason I never really had an issue with diet drinks until I started working behind a bar. I switched to regular Coke for some reason, I don't know why, but after a few weeks I realised I was putting on weight and noticed just how many calories are in regular Coke compared to its diet brother.

I immediately switched back but found that, after 18 years, the taste of Diet Coke repulsed me. Faced with the prospect of ditching Coke entirely, I grew a spine and just got used to it. To this day I am absolutely fine with diet fizzy drinks and continue to drink far too many. Except diet lemonade. Most diet lemonade is disgusting.

Switching to diet probably isn't appealing to a lot of people, but it doesn't take long for your tastebuds to readjust and it should be saving you money in the long run.

The dodgy taste that people complain about can probably be attributed to aspartame, that ever-present yet somehow still controversial artificial sweetener. I don't like aspartame in my drinks. Not because of any health concerns, but because it's completely rubbish at sweetening things. It's not that sweet to begin with, and it also has a bitter tang that really shouldn't be there either. Seriously, there's half a tub of the stuff sitting in my cupboard unused because it felt like I needed half a mug full of the stuff to take the edge off my coffee. Aspartame is the sweetener equivalent of the guy in your office that smells a bit funny, and only does the bare minimum to avoid being sacked. It does what it needs to, but there are plenty of better options out there.

You also have to consider that sugary drinks are, shockingly, full of sugar. And sugar is the closest thing we have to pure energy. According to Coca Cola, there are 42 calories in every 100ml of the stuff; that means a single 500ml bottle has 210 calories in it.

For Diet Coke that number is two, with 0.4 calories in every 100ml you drink. Those 1.75 litre bottles they sell Coke in have 735 calories. That's 735 calories you can drink quite easily, without even realising it. Sure, sugary drinks do fill you up more than their diet counterparts, but it's not quite the same as actually eating something. The fact that there's virtually nothing to digest also means it's all going to be hitting your system pretty quickly as well. The faster it gets through your system, the sooner you're likely to start craving it again.

Diet Drinks Are Bad for You As Well!

That's not exactly conclusive. While it's true that diet drinks can still damage your teeth with acid erosion, that's a much more gradual process than it is with sugar. The acid in drinks slowly dissolves tooth enamel, but once it's gone it stops causing damage. Over long periods of time, if you drink a lot, it can cause problems, but nowhere as near as much as sugar. Sugar fuels the bacteria in your teeth into creating their own acid, which also works at dissolving your teeth away. Unlike the acid actually in your drink, however, this acid lingers on your teeth for a much longer period of time.

Say you drink a bottle of Coke over ten minutes. You're constantly bombarding your teeth with sugar throughout those ten minutes. Once you stop, however, it takes another 40 minutes for the ph levels in your mouth to return to normal. This process is known as the Stephan Curve, and shows how much damage sugar can do to your mouth even after you've finished consuming it.

As for the artificial sweeteners, there's a lot of negative stigma associated with them. Some people adamantly claim that they, particularly Aspartame, can cause cancer - a claim that has been debunked over the years. Others insist that artificial sweeteners can cause weight gain, with some insisting that they trick your body into storing fat or that the sweet taste causes people to crave other sweet things. Some studies have also suggested that diet drinks cause people to eat more, because they tell themselves the low calorie drinks means they can eat more.

I'm not a scientist in a lab working on research into this, so I can't say with any level of certainty whether any conclusions are true or not. It doesn't help that the findings often tend to be so wildly inconsistent, and have a tendency to be blown way out of proportion by eager press officers or tabloid news. The fact of the matter is, however, that in combination with a calorie controlled diet artificial sweeteners can't possibly cause people to gain weight.

If you consume 3000 calories each day, and burn 2500 in the same amount of time, you end up with an excess of 500 calories everyday - which your body will store as fat. If, however, 500 of those calories come from drinking Coke, switching to Diet without changing anything else in your diet means you just lowered your daily intake to just over 2500. So you shouldn't have much, if any, excess energy to store. And if there's no energy to store, you can't get any fatter. That would be a contradiction of the laws of physics.

Regardless, if you're really serious about being healthy or losing weight, you shouldn't be drinking Coke at all  - regardless of its recipe. The acid certainly isn't good for your teeth either.

But What About Junk Food? That's Bad As Well!

That's absolutely correct, and junk food can have a serious effect on all of the things experts claim the new tax on sugary drinks will combat. So why hasn't the government instituted a tax on junk food, or at least food with high levels of added sugar? The idea has been floated around, with Mexico, Finland, Denmark, and Hungary instituting so-called 'fat taxes' on at least some unhealthy food. Reports indicate that France and Scotland have been mulling over a decision as well.

Why this hasn't been implemented is anyone's guess. The Food Research Association has called for a tax on junk food, though a few years back experts said the levies would need to be as high as 20% to have any effect. I spoke to my Dad about this and he, being a dentist, said he couldn't care less if everything with sugar was taxed more heavily. He did, however, suggest that sugary drinks are being targeted because it's easy. There's no way in hell anyone could claim Coke is good for you, even if it's the Diet stuff. And frankly, unlike a lot of unhealthy food, there are similar, somewhat healthier options available to you

Still, if this impending sugar tax works you can be sure that the government is going to see if it can increase the amount of tax revenue it gets from unhealthy people.

But There Are Other Ways to Deal With These Problems!

Yes, that's true. For starters the government can also do more to encourage an active lifestyle. The fact that the sugar tax revenue is going towards funding school sports is one step, and means fat kids will actually get some exercise to burn off the excess calories their bodies are storing. Cutting the amount of tax gyms pay wouldn't go amiss either, that way us regular people should be able to take advantage of cheaper memberships.

The simple fact of the matter is, however, that there's only so much exercise people can do and it only goes so far. The average man is supposed to eat 2500 calories every day (it's 2000 for the average woman). Say that man eats 3000 calories every day, and burns off 1,000 calories every two days when he goes to the gym. That essentially means he's breaking even from a calorie perspective, and won't lose any weight. Depending on the diet and exercise regime his muscle/fat ratio may change, but if he's already overweight then they're going to stay that way. The only way a person can actually lose significant amounts of weight is to change their diet and stop eating too much. Exercise certainly helps, but it's not a golden ticket.

Given how easy it is to consume calories in drinks, and how quickly the body stops feeling full after eating sugar, it is incredibly easy to over do it. At least by adding an extra tax onto sugary drinks, the government is at least making people think about what they're consuming and hopefully make them realise just how bad those levels of sugar can be in large quantities. And for those who don't, at least there's more money heading into Westminster.