Like fast food, soft drinks used to be — and I would argue still should be — an occasional treat. Now these sodas are ubiquitous — and many people drink them all freaking day. And no, for the fourteenth time, Orange Crush has nothing in common with orange juice (which you should not be drinking either, but that’s for another day).
Yours truly used to drink at least one Diet Coke a day, often with a healthy (a-hem) lunch of a burrito or, if I was scheduled for a luxurious 4-minute lunch break, just to wash down a giant pretzel and florescent cheese whiz I’d purchase at one of the high school cafeteria carts where I taught. I’ve always enjoyed the fizz of a soda with spicy food, though now I try to get my pizzazz from sparkling water instead. Once in awhile I still rock a Diet Hansen’s Root Beer (sweetened with Stevia), but you’ll usually find me with a mug of coffee, tea, or fancified water.
Anyone who has not been living under a rock will probably agree that sodas are a major source of empty calories in the American diet, as well as a crazy-huge factor in our obesity and diabetes epidemics. Apparently our bodies don’t recognize — or aren’t satiated by — calories derived from sugary beverages, so you end up eating just as much as you otherwise would, then crave more sugar and calories. A nasty cycle. Further, one 12-ounce can of soda is the equivalent of eating 13 teaspoons of sugar. Really, the only winners I can see here — aside from Mr. Pibb and Dr. Pepper — are dentists as they crown you with many crowns.
Much controversy fizzes around diet sodas — are they any better for us? Well, more than a few nutritionists believe diet sodas actually make us hungrier (yahoo for 4th meal!). Then there’s the oh-I-can effect, such as “oh-I-can eat a slab of deep-fried pizza dough because I am drinking a Diet Coke,” or “oh-I-can skip my workout as I only had a Diet Sprite with lunch.” Devoid of nutrients and full of chemicals, artificial sweeteners, and such lovelies as brominated vegetable oil (egads!), diet sodas are, at best, a sad substitute for water, and at worst can have serious side effects. Some medical studies have shown a correlation between drinking diet soda and metabolic syndrome – a condition that many thin people also have which raises your risk of heart disease, stroke, and type II diabetes. Awesome, eh? Further studies have revealed connections between diet soda drinking and such fabulous effects as weight gain, preterm delivery, and depression. I don’t know about y’all, but I’d rather get deliberately depressed watching a sad film starring Ryan Gosling than buy cases of soda and not even understand why I’m in such a funk!
If you’re a major soda drinker, try gradually cutting back. Begin by replacing one soda a day with sparkling water or water infused with citrus, fresh mint or other herbs, berries, and/or cucumber slices. Keep a pitcher in the fridge and pour it into a fancy glass or a sporty water bottle (bonus: you’ll feel and look more athletic, I promise). Get your healthy drink on this summer! Your body and budget will thank you for it. 🙂