At our last stop on this beverage expedition we took a rather long and disturbing detour, an inside look into the dairy industry –– the good, the bad, and the ugly. However, it was brought to my attention that I didn’t quite address whether or not drinking milk is good or bad. The answer is, unless you are a baby or young child, in my opinion, milk is over-rated and should not be part of your daily liquid consumption in large quantities, especially if you consider the saturated fat and lactose (a type of sugar) that is found in milk. Yet, using milk in your cereal, oatmeal, coffee, etc. in small amounts is fine, unless of course you are lactose-intolerant. Keep in mind there are also alternatives to dairy milk like soy, rice and almond milk.
Today’s beverage stop is emotionally lighter, yet it could be heavier to your body. We will tackle one of the most popular liquid choices in America, soda –– a drink that does its fair share of damage to health and fitness. Drinking soda is one of America's biggest diet debacles and one that warrants a “diet villain” label –– both diet and regular. This is due to the fact that this is where your beverages get "real sticky" –– as in way too much sugar and artificial sweeteners, which are the main ingredients found in soda.
Sugar and artificial sweeteners are relevant to number five, SODA, of the nine liquid categories I've laid out to analyze and move you toward the "fit path" when it comes to your beverage choices. Although our journey has been quite pleasant (other than the "cow stop"), at this point you may need a little shove because sugar and artificial sweeteners are also pertinent to numbers six through eight –– other soft drinks, juices, and meal replacement drinks.
Sugar and sugar derivatives:
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in a report by MedicineNet.com, Americans consume "one hundred and fifty-six pounds of sugar each year on a per capita basis." Quite amazing! The reason is not just from adding "table sugar" to your food and drinks –– a common diet mistake –– but the fact that highly refined sugar is found in most packaged, processed, and man-made food items. And, it comes in many forms like; sucrose (table sugar), dextrose (corn sugar), high-fructose corn syrup, etc. Unfortunately, today sugar and sugar derivatives are not just found in cookies, candy and soda; it is everywhere from your cereal, bread, crackers, dairy products, mayonnaise, peanut butter, ketchup, pasta sauce, to a plethora of frozen, canned foods, and so called "fat-free" products. The list is endless.
Sugar has rightly drawn harsh criticism, and some nutrition experts are heralding "dire consequences" from suppressing the immune system to hyperactivity and hundreds of ways that it can ruin your health. While some of the "perils of sugar" are true, others need more thorough evaluation. However, there is no disputing the fact that refined sugar is a source of empty calories (void of nutritional value), and consuming excessive amounts has its cost; it can worsen cholesterol levels, can easily lead to weight gain, and is a factor in our obesity epidemic, which has plenty of its own health penalties.
Artificial sweeteners:To this day there is a great deal of controversy surrounding artificial sweeteners (Sweet'N Low, NutraSweet, Splenda, and others), and some nutritionists and fitness experts like Dr. Mercola –– a very influential "health guru" and best-selling author –– deem them as "poison" when consumed in excess.
Interestingly, MedicineNet.com states, "For every compelling positive argument in favor of using these sweeteners, there is an equally compelling negative argument opposing their use." Widely circulated reports have suggested that some sweeteners, such as aspartame and saccharin, carry serious health implications, including an increased risk of cancer. Yet, in 2008 the Mayo Clinic reported that the "Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the American Dietetic Association, the National Cancer Institute, and others agree that no evidence supports these claims." However, they do warn that "that consuming foods with low-calorie sweeteners may result in an overall increase in calorie intake and weight gain."