The secret role of caffeine in soft drinks

You cannot taste it, then why is it there?

In peak summer, when the mercury soars to unimaginable levels in the country, a chilled soft drink is something to die for. But before you reach for that bottle, think twice. Soft drinks contain oodles of sugar, which is considered addictive and closely associated with obesity and diabetes.

There is more alarming news. Colas, the most consumed among soft drinks, also contain caffeine. Recent research indicates that caffeine is addictive. That means the caffeine content makes you consume more and more colas at the cost of your health.

What exactly is caffeine?

Caffeine is a stimulant which is mainly derived from a plant and widely used in many food products and aerated drinks, especially the cola-based variety. Caffeine is used to increase the flavour in soft drinks though studies have shown that the caffeine content in soft drinks cannot be detected by our taste receptors.

However, even at low levels caffeine affects the human brain and promotes a liking for caffeinated drinks, sub-consciously increasing consumption. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition 2015 has found that the presence of caffeine in a sweetened soft drink increases its consumption. In fact, caffeine may be added to soft drinks for just this purpose!

Health effects

Caffeine at low doses has been found to improve mood and alertness. But in people sensitive to caffeine it can also cause insomnia, irritability, nervousness, headache and palpitations. Excessive caffeine consumption can be harmful to health and can lead to conditions like high blood pressure, irregular heart rhythm, low potassium levels, rigidity, cerebral edema, stroke and paralysis.

Limits set

In India, the Food Safety and Standards Regulations, 2009 prescribe a limit of 145 ppm of caffeine in aerated soft drinks. Packages of food products having added caffeine should carry the label ‘Contains Caffeine’. However, the amount of caffeine contained is not required to be mentioned on the label.

Areas of action

• Considering the health impacts of caffeine, and its addictive nature, it is vital for the consumer to know not just when he is consuming caffeine but how much quantity he is consuming. Regulatory authorities should make it mandatory for manufacturers to mention the quantity of caffeine on food and beverage labels.

• The prescribed limit of 145 ppm of caffeine in aerated soft drinks should be lowered in the interests of the health of consumers.


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