The year was 1886, temperance had run people out of local bars, and the soda fountain was just beginning to catch on. John Pemberton, a pharmacist, saw this as the perfect climate in which to create a new and exciting beverage he called Coca-Cola.
Behind his invention were dreams of “making it big.” Previous attempts at creating drugs had failed for Pemberton; nonetheless, he dove headfirst into the soda business. Not knowing much about advertising, Pemberton sought the help of Frank Robinson who registered Coca-Cola formula with the patent office, designed the logo and wrote one of the most famous Coke slogans: “The Pause that Refreshes.”
Poor sales the first year proved to be heartbreaking to Pemberton, who died in August 1888 before ever seeing any commercial success from Coke which now has an annual revenue of $50 billion.
Pemberton’s Successor and the Spread of Coke
After Pemberton’s passing, Asa Griggs Candler rescued the business and in 1891 became the sole owner of Coca-Cola. Candler created coupons for free Coke and hired salesmen to take them door to door to market the beverage. Efforts to establish Coke as a national brand began with posters, logos on calendars, notebooks and bookmarks. This took the Coke image far and wide. Candler formed, along with his brother, Pemberton’s former partner Frank Robinson and two other associates, the Georgia corporation named The Coca-Cola Company.
By 1894, syrup processing plants started popping up all over the country, and just three years after the company was incorporated Candler announced that Coca-Cola was being drunk in every state and territory in the US. With the passing of time, the company continued to grow in popularity. Within 20 years, the number of Coke plants grew from 2 to 1,000 with 95 being locally owned and operated. The development of high-speed machinery made it easy for Coke to bottle, store and ship their product to networks all over the world.
The first Coke contained extract of coca leaves and kola nuts. It was the cocaine (since removed) in the early Coke that Pemberton used to make health claims for the beverage, stating it would increase energy and reduce headaches. More than a century later, Coke is once again making health claims. This time it is not about cocaine, though.
The Safety of Aspartame
Of course, Coke has exceptional marketing to this day and has also expanded their line of Coke products to include Diet Coke, a sugar-free soda that is sweetened with a combination of methanol, phenylalanine (an amino acid found in a wide range of proteins and bananas) and aspartic acid. This combination is known as aspartame or the brand name NutraSweet. While evidence challenging the safety of aspartame continues to expand, Coke recently announced that it plans to run an advertising campaign to defend the safety of the artificial sweetener. Coke is making bold health claims that consuming diet drinks can help people manage their weight and stress and that there is strong scientific evidence supporting the safety of the artificial ingredient.
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Coke has been hard hit over the years by critics and health experts who blame consumption of their sugar-laden Coca-Cola beverage in part for the expanding American waistline and obesity-related health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. With declining sales, it was time for a new and strategic marketing campaign to convince Coke lovers everywhere that the alternative, Diet Coke, is completely safe and an effective way to control weight. Coke has pulled out all the stops on this one.
Isolating Natural Substances is Dangerous
The Food and Drug Administration clearly state that aspartame may be used safely as a sweetener, and the American Cancer Society notes that the majority of human studies find that aspartame is not linked to an increased risk of cancer. With that said, it has also been found that in large doses, phenylalanine acts as a neurotoxin and can be highly dangerous to health, especially for those who suffer from the genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU).
The main problem with phenylalanine, according to Dr. Janet Starr Hull, author of the book Sweet Poison, is that amino acids should only be eaten in the way that they are presented in nature — a stark reminder that we should always leave the natural order of things alone.
When amino acids are isolated and processed, they can be highly dangerous to health. Too much of this isolated amino acid overstimulates neurons and causes cellular death in the brain. Conditions such as ADD and ADHD, as well as emotional and behavioral disorders, have all been linked to elevated levels of phenylalanine in the brain and body.
Diet Soda Linked to Weight Gain and Other Health Complications
There also has been a long-standing debate over whether or not diet drinks are better than sugary drinks. Even though sales of Diet Coke seem to be dropping off, the overall trend has been for an increase in diet sodas over regular sodas over the past 25 years.
In addition to aspartame, diet drinks also can contain chemicals such as sucralose and saccharin. According to Purdue University behavioral neuroscientist Susan Swithers, people who consume diet soda have twice the risk of developing “metabolic syndrome” or “syndrome X,” a precursor to diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Beth Dierkhising, a registered dietician, states that the body becomes highly confused when you drink a diet soda sweetened with a chemical sweetener. This can cause uncontrollable cravings for sweets, leading to weight gain.
Additionally, diet sodas have been linked to kidney problems. An 11-year study at Harvard Medical School found that diet cola doubled the risk of kidney decline when as little as two sodas were consumed per day. Diet soda is highly acidic, and this can cause problems with dental decay. Adults who drink three or more sodas per day have poor dental health according to a University of Michigan study.
The Aspartame Consumer Safety Network produced a fact sheet and said the following can be side-effects of aspartame: Headaches, nausea, vertigo, insomnia, numbness, blurred vision, blindness and other eye problems, memory loss, slurred speech, depression, personality changes, hyperactivity, stomach disorders, seizures, skin lesions, rashes, anxiety attacks, muscle cramping and joint pain, loss of energy, symptoms mimicking heart attacks, hearing loss and ear ringing, and loss or change of taste.
In preparation for its campaign, Coke has been handing out its own fact sheets on aspartame to bottlers, noting that the sweetener is used in a wide range of products including pudding, gum and desserts. Does this make its use viable or even safe? Coke is even going so far as to host free webinars for dietitians and health care professionals to earn continuing credits to maintain their professional licenses. Experts at Coke plan to conduct the webinars which supposedly are based on independent, objective research. Still, does it make sense to have a beverage company educating people about nutrition?
At the dawn of the massive Coke campaign, it is evident that more and more people are beginning to realize that artificial means just that — artificial. If it exists outside of creation, can it truly be of any value to the human body?
Will you let some multi-million dollar advertising campaign convince you that the natural order of things is not really real? If you are confused, heed the word of food journalist and author Michael Pollan:
“If you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a strong indication it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat.”