Sunday, 20 January 2013

So, who wants a Coke?

I've been on something of an off-and-on health kick (off whenever I walk into In'n'Out Burger) for the past year, so I've naturally been reading up on what's good to eat or drink versus what isn't. Naturally, there's a lot of disagreement and misinformation out there, but my favorite quote is Michael Pollan's "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." It's short, to the point and makes unimpeachable sense.

Unfortunately, I'm here to add to the fog of war, rather than dispel it. Specifically, I'm going to do that by saying that Coca-Cola and other sodas probably aren't the liquified death that a lot of people seem to think they are.

Now, I'm not saying this just to be contrary; it's simply that diet is one of those areas of life where people are content to turn off their brains and let themselves be led by food companies. I'm not just referring to diet soda, which some research suggest might be pretty bad for you, but also to the various juices and smoothies and other junk we pour down our throats because we think it's healthy.

As I say, there's a lot of research on how diet soda might be bad for you. Some excitable news sources have run with the "diet soda causes weight gain" meme, which I was prepared to propagate until I started googling for research on the subject. But the relationship between diet soda consumption and weight gain seems to be pretty complicated, with research suggesting that it tricks the body into craving more calories, so that you end up overeating after all. And if you google the phrase "diet soda addiction", be prepared for an onslaught of links.

So the whole business of diet soda being shitty for you is pretty well-known (although I always cringe whenever I see a parent giving their kid a can of Diet Coke). What I find fascinating is that juice drinks are probably not awesome things to be guzzling either.

I think it's telling that the Mayo Clinic page I linked to above lists a number of healthier alternatives, but leaves out fruit drinks. I've been reading food labels for the last couple of years, because I find it helpful to know how many calories I'm taking in whenever I eat; in the course of this reading, I've discovered that fruit juice tends to have loads more sugar than regular soda. Specifically, Coke here in the UK has about 42 Calories per 100mL, which is admittedly a lot; by contrast, store-bought lemonade or orange juice typically has about 55 Calories per 100mL, or about 25% more. In fact, most nutritional sources that I've read say that only the first 100mL of fruit juice you consume actually counts toward your 5-a-day, and the rest is empty calories.

And yet, my friends look at me like I'm crazy when I say I stick to no more than one glass of juice in a given day (if that). The perception seems to be that because it's fruit-based, it can't possibly be bad for you; but sugar occurs naturally, of course, and it's mostly present in sweet things like fruits.

Now, to clarify, I'm not saying we should drink more soda. In addition to obesity, it's linked with increased incidence of things like kidney stones and osteoporosis (both diet and regular versions of soda). I'm just suggesting that more people should actively keep an eye on what they're putting into their bodies.

And maybe Mr Pollan should add a corollary to that "mostly plants" rule listed above: Mostly green plants.