'Step away from the soda,' daughter says

March 26, 2006|By SUSAN REIMER

A ROLE REVERSAL I AM NOT ashamed to admit: my daughter has taken up the badge and gun of the food police.

When my children were young, that was my role. I held out longer than most against fast food, and there was a starch, a protein and a vegetable every evening at dinner.

However, during all that time, I was an admitted Diet Coke addict.

I could barely make it to 11 a.m. before I had my first belt, and that bubbling brown liquid was never far from me after that. I had a Diet Coke in my cup-holder as I drove and in my hand as I walked.

Under the chastening gaze of my daughter, I have switched to green tea, embracing its antioxidant qualities like a sinner embraces Jesus.

I backslide occasionally. My van inexplicably heads for the drive-through window at McDonald's (where the Diet Coke seems to have more bubbles), and when I come to, there is a Diet Coke beside me.

But basically, I am clean. More or less.

And I am also part of what appears to be a national trend.

The sale of sodas in this country -- increasingly linked to obesity -- has stalled or is falling, and the consumption of diet sodas is stagnant as well, because people like my daughter don't think they are healthy.

According to the Beverage Digest, sodas, diet and otherwise, are losing ground to bottled water, sports drinks like Gatorade and energy drinks like Red Bull. And The New York Times reported that 64 percent of the growth in bottled water is a result of people switching from soda.

It never made much sense to me to pay money for something that comes out of the tap for free, but when my kids started to play sports, it was easier to throw a bottle in their gym bags and, heaven help me, I started to buy the stuff by the case.

Pretty soon, I was throwing a bottle into my purse, and there you have it.

(My switch to green tea came when my daughter started criticizing my trips to Starbucks for a skim latte, which I had substituted for my trips to McDonald's for Diet Coke. A girl's got to get her caffeine somewhere. But Jessie did not approve of that either.)

Researchers trying to prove soda's role in our national obesity crisis have been stumped by a nettlesome fact. Soda consumption is most often part of a fast-food eating pattern that is most often a habit of poverty, and it was difficult to tease out the precise role of soda in all this.

In other words, poor people might make better food choices if they had the money -- and the access -- to the fresh fruits and vegetables the rest of us do. If there was a Whole Foods in their neighborhood, for instance, instead of just a Wawa or a 7-Eleven.

Right now, I have a case of fresh oranges and grapefruits on my deck and a juicer in my kitchen cupboard. They combine to give me a pleasant and healthy alternative every morning when the demon Diet Coke reaches out for me.

But to get these fruits, I have to be on a fancy mailing list. I have to drive to purchase them, and I spend what might be someone else's weekly food budget. It is as easy for me to get that fresh fruit as it is for me to visit a members-only big box store and buy cheap cases of bottled water.

I have no doubt that soda makes you fat. There are 250 empty calories and 67 grams of sugar in a 20-ounce bottle. And there is no evidence that the bubbles make you feel full and reduce your intake of other calories. In fact, there is some thought that soda may trigger a craving for fast food.

But the underlying truth may be that poverty makes you fat, and that our war on obesity should be a war on poverty.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

To hear an audio clip of this column and others, go to baltimoresun.com / reimer.

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