That dodgy Coke infographic

Posted on August 12, 2015

An infographic explaining the effects of a can of Coke on our bodies went viral last week. It was created by Niraj Naik, the self-styled 'Renegade Pharmacist', a puffed-up moniker that puts one in mind of that Monty Python sketch about the accountant who wants to become a lion tamer. He's a pharmacist, which sounds boring, but no - he's a rebel, he doesn't play by the rules. One imagines Naik standing in front of the mirror in his white coat, pretending he's Bruce Willis in Die Hard.

The claims in the infographic are shocking. There is so much sugar, apparently, that you would vomit if it were not for the phosphoric acid that has been added to the drink. Your blood sugar spikes, causing an insulin rush, and your liver turns any available sugar to fat. The caffeine causes dopamine production in your brain to increase - in much the same way as heroin. That phosphoric acid binds to important minerals like zinc and calcium, and the caffeine makes you pee, ensuring you lose these valuable nutrients from your body. Later, you'll have a 'sugar crash'. Presumably, the point is that you'll soon be after another hit of the brown.

The good people at Buzzfeed have already questioned many of these claims, so we won't bother to do that here. What we can say is that sugar isn't fundamentally different from many other easy-to-digest foods in its effect on your body. Even Naik admits that 'moderation is key'. Yes, you'll get fat if you spend your days guzzling Coke and consume too many calories as a result. But much the same could be said for couscous and quinoa, the right-on foodie's exotic stodgy foods of choice.

What is more interesting is the target and the reaction. Coke has become the bête noire of health campaigners, the symbol of the dangers of that innocent-looking crystal, sugar. Even though fruit juice, honey and various other foods and drinks could potentially have the same effects as added sugar, the chattering classes are only too happy to get their rocks off at the idea that popular soft drinks are in reality killing us and Big Soda is essentially a conspiracy to wreck our health - especially the health of the poor and stupid who are easily duped by a bit of advertising.

It seems beyond the ken of food crusaders that people might just like the taste of Coke and find it refreshing rather than being gormless fools taken in by flashy imagery. No, what is required is prohibition of this apparently lethal fizz. They don't actually use the word 'prohibition', of course, but through calls for taxes, restrictions on sales and so on, that's exactly what they mean.

The very same tactics that have been used to restrict our choices about tobacco are now being employed in an attempt to deprive us of choice about sugary drinks, as Tesco's decision to stop selling certain Ribena products shows. Whatever Coke does to your body - not much, one suspects - we should be far more afraid of crusaders like the 'Renegade Pharmacist' and their lethal effect on our freedoms.