What Happens Aftern Drinking a Can of Coke?


To be clear, soda is certainly not a health food and it can have profoundly negative effects on the human body. But some of the information presented in this infographic may be more rooted in fiction than fact. Our world—both online and off—is rife with misinformation (especially related to health and nutrition!) and learning to distinguish between accurate, evidence-based information and the alternative is important.  Let’s compare these “facts” to what scientific research tells us.

Should large amounts of sugar make us throw up? The infographic states that you don’t immediately vomit from the coke because the phosphoric acid masks the overwhelming sweetness. The truth: one 12-ounce can of coke contains 140 calories, and 39 grams of sugar (the equivalent of about 9 teaspoons). Contrast that with another very sweet treat: Nutella. Three tablespoons of the chocolate spread contains over 30 grams of sugar, and no phosphoric acid. That’s a lot of sugar, but most of us wouldn’t throw up from the sweetness. That certainly doesn’t make either of these choices healthy though!

Does the liver immediately turn large amounts of sugar into fat? The body’s metabolic processes are actually quite complex, but the short answer is—yes. In general, excess amounts of sugar from any source can trigger formation of fat in the liver. A recent study found that regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages was associated with greater risk of fatty liver disease, a serious condition plaguing 30% of American adults.1

Does Coca-Cola have the same effect on brain chemistry as heroin? The infographic tells us that our brains’ pleasure centers are stimulated after drinking soda, and dopamine released. While that may be true, it doesn’t necessarily point to a sinister mechanism, and similar effects can be seen in other situations. For example, dopamine release is involved in bonding between mothers and babies, and believed to be the source of “runner’s high.” That being said, there is developing research that large amounts of sugar can mimic addiction-like changes in brain chemistry.2 We’re still learning more about this though, and further research is needed.

Does phosphorus bind calcium, magnesium, and zinc? Phosphorus does indeed bind to calcium, magnesium, and zinc, making it difficult for your body to use these necessary nutrients. Phosphorus is found naturally in many healthy foods, including dairy and whole grains. It is concentrated in much greater amounts in soda, and if not balanced out with enough dietary calcium, this can lead to weakened bones. One study found that women who consumed cola-type soft drinks (including regular and diet versions) had lower bone mineral density than those who had less than one cola per month.3 Limiting cola-type soda intake and making sure to include healthy sources of phosphorus and calcium in your diet can reduce the risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture.