Oops! It appears that you have disabled your Javascript. In order for you to see this page as it is meant to appear, we ask that you please re-enable your Javascript!

Behind the headlines: Does Coke kill?

Reviewed by our expert panel
Behind the headlines: Does Coke kill?

We were shocked to read about the tragic case of mother of eight Natasha Harris, who died aged 30 from a cardiac arrest.

It was reported the coroner found Ms Harris died from drinking ‘too much Coke’ — she apparently drank up to 10 litres of Coke every day. But is it fair to blame Coke for the death? HFG senior nutritionist Rose Carr weighs in.

We all know caffeine can give us a kick-start but do we ever consider how much is harmful? Do we know how much is too much? The coroner in Natasha Harris’ case has recommended a warning not to drink excessive amounts be placed on Coke.

Certainly, eating hardly any food and drinking six to 10 litres of any drink every day is excessive and likely to do harm. The six to 10 litres of Coke a day Ms Harris consumed contained up to one kilo of sugar and two-and-a-half times the amount of caffeine considered safe.

Most of us would have heart palpitations if we consumed that amount of caffeine.

The amount of caffeine permitted in our drinks, like any other additive, is regulated. But the regulation does assume we’re not all drinking six to 10 litres a day. So here’s a quick guide: if you’re consuming more than two to three cups of drinks containing caffeine each day, experiencing heart palpitations, feeling anxious or you can’t sleep, chances are you’re having way too much.

Most of us know by now that if we eat so much that we become obese, we’re setting ourselves up for some serious long-term health problems. But excessive drinking can also create health issues. Did you know that if we drink too much water in one go we can kill ourselves very quickly? This has happened both here and overseas. In 2012, a 12-year-old Finnish girl killed herself while playing ‘water poker’ at school. She drank over 5.5L of water at once, when for most of us around eight glasses a day (give or take, depending on our size, the temperature, whether we are exercising and so on) is about right.

In the US, risking your health through excessive consumption might make you wealthy. A Denver man (who now has around 50 per cent lung capacity) recently won a US$7.2 million lawsuit against a popcorn maker. Five years ago he developed ‘popcorn lung’ after consuming two bags of popcorn every day for 10 years. The cause was thought to be an artificial flavouring (no longer used) added to give the popcorn a buttery taste. His comment: “They thought that no consumer would ever be exposed to enough of it to make a difference.” A cautionary tale.

It’s so boring to talk about moderation, but it seems there are people who may not know what a balanced diet is and that excessive consumption — of pretty much anything — is potentially harmful. Maybe rather than putting warnings on all of our food and drinks — the ones many people enjoy in moderation — we need to educate people about what a healthy diet looks like, so we can all start from that point, and then understand if something we’re doing is out of whack.

I can’t help but think that if we need a warning on Coke, maybe we need this warning on all foods: ‘Excessive consumption of [insert name of food or drink here] can harm your health.’

First published: Apr 2013

Go to homepage*Subsequent months will be $2.75