Monday, August 27, 2012

Five Things to Drink Instead of Soda

I have a pretty awful soda addiction.  It's gotten better in recent years through a concentrated effort at not buying any, but left to my own devices I can easily inhale a 3-liter of soda all by myself in a day (or less).  There was a time in college when Mountain Dew was essentially its own food group.  In fact, there was a time in my life when my lunch consisted of a Mountain Dew, bag of Funyuns and a Little Debbie snack cake (followed up by a cigarette).  Needless to say, whole foods didn't really cross my mind as I was feeding dollars into vending machines.

Anyway, like I said, I'm getting better about the soda consumption, but it's not really a "scale back" kind of food.  It has zero redeeming qualities and is, for the most part, something you should keep at a distance of at least ten feet. 

What's Wrong With Soda?

(More importantly, what's not wrong with soda?)

First, the health aspect.  Soda is essentially just water infused with high fructose corn syrup, a handful of artificial colors and flavors, and injected with carbon dioxide to make it fizzy.  You get essentially the same nutrition from drinking soda as you would from gnawing on 10 sugar cubes.  Except we usually drink more than one can of soda at a time, don't we?  Yeah.  Not good.

Oh, and in case you're not worried about counting calories (and I respect that), soda has some other problems.  For one, it rots your teeth and can cause acid reflux and other digestive issues.  For another, the phosphoric acid in soda may actually leech calcium out of your bones.  And, of course, there's the caffeine issue, which is a whole separate can of worms.

Diet sodas can be even worse.  Artificial sweeteners have this terrible way of making you feel even hungrier, some of them are linked to cancer,  and they're chemically addictive.  Oh, and diet sodas have all the same problems as regular soda in terms of acid.

In case you don't care about your health at all, soda is still pretty terrible for the environment.  See, soda goes flat really fast, and flat soda is disgusting, so companies have to make individual-size servings of it.  Which translates into a whole lot of waste, not to mention the pollution from producing and shipping the stuff.

Oh, and one more thing to make you really, really hate soda?  Big soda companies have really obnoxious habits.  Like, say, destroying large swathes of India.  In fact, it's cheaper to get a Coca Cola in many developing nations than it is to get clean water.  Because obviously it makes more sense to sell chronically impoverished people an addictive substance with zero nutritional value that will slowly erode their bodies instead of using that money to fund, say, a water treatment facility.  Naturally.

Some of the Alternatives Are Just as Bad

If you do absolutely nothing else that I advocate in this blog -- if you don't make any other changes to your diet or buying habits or lifestyle -- quit drinking soda.  This one single exercise will save your health, the environment and developing nations all across the world.  And it'll save you money.

If you're looking to cut sodas, though, beware that some of the "alternatives" are just as bad:
  • Bottled water is almost always manufactured by a soda company.  So when you buy a Dasani, for example, you're still supporting the Cocoa Cola company and everything it stands for.  
  • Fruit juice has just as much sugar in it as soda.  Even if it's 100% juice, you're still essentially just drinking sugar water (although the extra nutrients are nice) since the fiber of the regular fruit is gone.  And of course, some of those juice companies are pretty terrible, and the juice has to be packed up and shipped to you.  If you really want fruit juice, squeeze it yourself. 
  • Sports drinks, energy drinks, "vitamin waters"....don't get me started.  
So here.  Here's five things you can drink right now that are better for you than soda and will help curb the craving.

  1. Water.  You knew I was going to say this, didn't you?  It's a dirty trick.  But it's true.  Water is the only beverage the human body actually needs.   And it's really not that bad once your taste buds acclimate to it.  In fact, it's pretty delicious.  Drink it over ice and be grateful that you live in a country where clean, fresh water is available from a tap.  
  2. Agua fresca. If you live in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood, you can get this basically anywhere.  If not, it's essentially water blended with fresh fruit, berries, seeds or whatever else is on hand.  Sometimes there's sugar involved, but it's honestly not necessary.  Blend up some cucumbers or melons with your water, or just dice some, soak them in water overnight and strain the next day.  
  3. Unsweetened tea. I know, living in Texas, I am contractually obligated to drink sweet tea.  And it is delicious.  But I actually like -- and sometimes prefer -- the taste of unsweetened tea.  You can drink it hot or cold, and there's actually a tremendous variety of teas that you've probably never heard of if you're accustomed to Lipton and Brisk.  I grew up on herbal tea, and I'm a big fan of green tea, white tea, chai tea, you name it.  Loose-leaf teas produce less waste, and you can dump the leaves right into your compost heap.  
  4. Lemonade.  There's a caveat to this.  First, you have to squeeze your own lemons.  Step away from the powdered mixes.  Only add as much sugar as you absolutely need.  Train yourself to start appreciating the tart taste of lemons on their own.   Add more water to thin it out instead of sweetening with more sugar.  Add berries.  Try other citrus, like limes and grapefruits.  And don't go too nuts -- if you drink it too much, the acid will damage your teeth (but it's still miles better than soda). 
  5. Beer and wine.  No, I'm serious.  No, the beer and wine isn't exactly a health food, but it's lower calorie than the soda, and you'll be satisfied with less of it.  When I spent a summer studying in London, beer was way cheaper than soda, and you got a ton more of it.  Find a micro-brew in town that you like, visit a local vineyard, or learn how to make your own.  
How about you guys?  Do you have any favorite non-soda beverages that help liven up your beverage consumption?  Let me know in the comments!

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