What Ingredient is in Coke that Causes Diarrhea?

If you frequently suffer from diarrhea within a few hours of drinking Coke or other types of soft drinks, it may be due to one of the ingredients these beverages contain. Most people do not experience any short-term problems by drinking Coke. However, if you are sensitive to some of the ingredients found in the Coke formulation, having a few sips could be enough to trigger your diarrhea.

The high-fructose corn syrup in coke can cause diarrhea. (Image: tiverylucky/iStock/Getty Images)

High-Fructose Corn Syrup

Regular Coke contains many ingredients that may not be best for your health, but the worse offender certainly is its high sugar content. Coke only provides empty calories in the form of sugar, which can lead to weight gain, diabetes and other health problems in the long-term. The main sweetener used in Coke sold in the U.S. is high-fructose corn syrup. This sweetener can cause different gastrointestinal problems, including diarrhea, for people with fructose malabsorption.

Fructose Malabsorption

Fructose malabsorption is similar to lactose intolerance, but instead of malabsorbing lactose, fructose is the problem. You can get tested for fructose malabsorption by doing a hydrogen breath test. Ask your doctor for a referral if you suspect this is the problem. Fructose malabsorbers are unable to absorb fructose properly and if fructose stays unabsorbed in your gastrointestinal tract, it attracts a lot of water through a process called osmosis. The large amount of water attracted into your intestines can cause omsotic diarrhea, which usually occurs within one to two hours of consuming Coke or other high-fructose foods or beverages.

Excess Fructose and High Fructose Load

If you have fructose malabsorption, any foods containing more fructose than glucose can cause you troubles. In the case of Coke, the ingredient high-fructose corn syrup used as the main sweetener is made of 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose. As a result, Coke contains more fructose than glucose, or excess fructose, and is a no-no for fructose malabsorbers if you want to avoid diarrhea. Even if it was sweetened with regular cane sugar, as it still is in Mexico, large amounts of cane sugar-sweetened Coke could still be problematic for fructose malabsorbers because of the high fructose load it provides. Although cane sugar is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose, a dose of 40 g of cane sugar at once could overwhelm your fructose tolerance and trigger diarrhea.

Suitable Alternatives

Most soft drinks sold in the U.S. are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, the same problematic ingredient found in Coke. Even if you find a soft drink sweetened with cane sugar, drinking more 12 oz. at a time is enough to trigger your diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems. Take advantage of your fructose malabsorption to motivate you to quit drinking empty liquid calories from Coke and other soft drinks. Alternatively, you can turn to diet soft drinks which do not contain sugar and high-fructose corn syrup as part of their ingredients.

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