In general soft drinks are either sweetened with sugar or with artificial sweeteners. For people with diabetes a large load of quickly ingested sugar is likely to result in unacceptably high blood glucose readings whereas drinks with artificial sweeteners do not affect blood glucose levels.
With specific respect to the cause and management of Type 2 diabetes, one of our immediate concerns is the overwhelming evidence that a high intake of sugar-sweetened drinks causes childhood obesity. This has prompted great debate in education circles resulting in some countries banning vending machines selling fizzy drinks in schools.
Soft drinks can be concoctions containing a whole variety of foods and substances from both the natural and synthetic world. Arabic chemists created one of the earliest forms of soft drinks called sherbets from crushed fruit, herbs and flowers. In thirteenth century England a drink known as Dandelion and Burdock made from fermented dandelion and burdock roots became popular. The version sold today is made with artificial flavorings since the safrole in the original recipe is thought to be carcinogenic.
One of the first marketed soft drinks in the western world was lemonade made from lemon juice sweetened with honey. The discovery of how to create fizzy drinks by invention of carbonated water in the eighteenth century represented a defining landmark in the soft drinks industry.
In America soda fountains became a significant meeting place. The availability of mineral waters flavored with herbs and chemicals later gave way to the predominant sales of bottled soda and then to canned soft drinks.
An understanding of the history of the availability and development of soft drinks is important if only to highlight the huge variability of possible ingredients around the world. We are continually subjected to an acute array of marketing and packaging. We are bombarded with exquisitely successful advertising promoting health and fitness benefits of energy drinks.
Many individual ingredients contained in soft drinks are in themselves becoming a cause for increasing concern. In a standard can (330 ml) of a typical fizzy drink bought over the counter in the UK you might expect to find eight teaspoons of sugar.
In the US the use of high-fructose corn syrup to sweeten drinks remains controversial but essentially it is the same argument about high sugar intakes and the risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and dental cavities.
The deleterious effects of high quantities of artificial sweeteners are also consistently being challenged. The addition of substances such as caffeine is linked to anxiety, irritability and sleep disturbance. The detection of the carcinogen benzene above permitted amounts in some soft drinks has raised further serious concerns.