Friday, November 4, 2011

The Cola Conundrum

It’s no secret that the United States has a notable problem with obesity (see this article).  Blame it on fast food, large portions, or sedentary lifestyle but I think the real culprit is the beverage.  When people come to me for “easy” weight loss tips, the first thing I ask them is “What do you drink?”.  9 times out of 10 I get a sheepish look and I already know what they are going to say.  Here are a few facts about sugary beverages:
  • Provides 21% of calories in the American diet and Americans are drinking more caloric beverages than ever before
  • People who drink sugary drinks consume more total calories than people who don’t
  • Regular soda contributes to dental decay and osteoporosis
  • Dark colas have been shown to lead to kidney stones
  • 1 or 2 cans of soda can negatively affect a child’s mood and increase anxiety
  • sports drinks can contain around 150 calories for 12 ounces (oz)
  • A 12 oz beer has the same number of calories as a 12 oz soda
  • Specialty coffee drinks can be loaded with calories.  A frappuccino can have 320 calories

As an alternative to drinking regular soda, the masses have turned to diet beverages.  But can too much diet soda be harmful?  Let’s look at some data about artificial sweeteners:
  • Examples include saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low), aspartame (Equal), Sucralose (Splenda), Stevia (Truvia, PureVia): all FDA approved
  • Provides a sugar substitute for Diabetics
  • They are significantly sweeter than sugar so you need much less of them to match the sweetness of sugar

Some studies show that people who consume high quantities of “fake sugar” wind up eating more calories for the day.  They tend to overcompensate with salty or fatty treats thus making it hard to maintain a healthy body weight.  Since the artificial sweeteners on the market are FDA approved (for now), we can’t say they will cause cancer but who knows what studies will find 100 years from now.  Currently we know that sugary drinks DO cause weight gain and tooth decay thus diet beverages are clearly the lesser of the two evils.  The best choices, however, are water, seltzer, milk, tea and plain soy milk.   If you drink more diet beverages than the healthy choices, try reversing your habits.  Start by replacing one bottle of diet soda with a healthy beverage.  Just remember, everything in moderation!

Special thanks goes to Yoni Wilbur for suggesting the topic of artificial sweeteners.  If you have a nutrition, food science, or culinary topic you would like to know more about, send your idea to and your suggestion may be featured next!

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