Soda has come under fire by national health experts as a major contributor to obesity. A zero-nutrient beverage that offers little but sugar calories (a 12 oz can of Coke Classic contains 140 calories and 10 teaspoons of sugar), it is well digested and all too easy to gulp down. Further, many of us choose the larger 20 oz soda bottles which, on a hot steamy day, isn't hard to guzzle down two or three. That's 480-720 calories—about a third of our daily calorie intake! It's no wonder they are a target of public health departments. New York's Governor Paterson proposed a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks that could discourage consumption by 15-20%. A study by the New York City Health Department estimated that this reduction could prevent thousands of cases of adult obesity and Type 2 diabetes, saving residents over $2 billion in related medical expenses.
I'm skeptical that the reduction of a single food product could have such far-reaching effects but obesity is such a complex problem that making small changes like this just might work. In response to this issue in the Boston area, the Boston Public Health Commission is launching its first citywide Soda-Free Summer Challenge. They are asking people and organizations to take a pledge to skip soda for the entire summer...or at least skimp on it if you're a soda diehard. Instead of soda, they suggest non-calorie drinks like water, unsweetened ice tea and seltzer, or low fat milk, which is rich in nutrients.
What about diet sodas and fruit juices? Kathy Cunningham, a dietitian at the Boston Public Health Commission, says “Diet or artificial sweeteners are intended to produce a sweet taste with zero or fewer calories to promote weight loss. However, over time calories displaced by artificial sweeteners may be replaced by other foods due to the sweetener increasing a taste preference for sweet foods rather than naturally low-sugar tasting foods.” In other words, the artificial sweeteners in diet sodas may promote an ongoing sweet tooth that can become an obstacle to weight loss. Cunningham believes that diet drinks are best used as an aid to transition to less sweetened beverages like water, mineral waters, and noncaffeinated teas. Fruit juices offer nutrients but are still high in calories and easy to drink in large quantities, so limit juice to about a cup a day (choose 100% fruit juices as fruit "drinks" contain added sugar). Or add a splash of fruit juice to seltzer water.
Are you up for the challenge? Admittedly I'm a fan of diet soda and flavored waters but agree that many of these products are filled with artificial ingredients, so I'm up for the challenge...at least for this summer.