Several months ago, after going a few years without drinking soda, I started to drink soda again. Why? Pretty much because I really like soda and I wanted to enjoy it again.
The reintroduction of soft drinks into my life, upon first glance, appears to be counter to just about every thing I feel about reconnecting to nature and natural things. You’ll likely see that what follows is not my attempt to argue the health promoting features of soda (which is an actual argument) but to simply describe how I think about things and how they may or may not fit into my life. Yes, it is a way to rationalize my own behavior but, in the end, that’s about all we try to do with everything we do in our lives anyways…
Me and Cherry Coke
Not different from many people out there, I’m a fan of soda. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things. I didn’t drink beer in college, I drank soda. It was a big part of my life for quite a while until I started looking into nutrition and found it was possibly one of the worst things I could do for my health. High fructose corn syrup, caffeine, artificial colors, flavors and more, these liquid sugar & chemical bombs were universally and unanimously labeled as a health disaster and one of the biggest reasons behind the rise in obesity and diabetes. Since they certainly aren’t very natural either, I was pretty sure they didn’t have a place in my life so I gave up drinking them. Life went on.
Fast forward a couple years. I got more interested in holistic well being and less focused on nutrition as the main component of health. I started to open my mind to challenging my dogmas and began experimenting with bringing sugar back into the mix a bit more, particularly in the context of management/fueling of both stress and my athletic realms. Naturally, it was a journey that eventually led me to start reevaluating my condemnation of soft drinks.
I believe it was a Cherry Coke in the refrigerator at my wife’s parents house that got me thinking… “Why am I avoiding soda?”
So I took a step back, literally and figuratively.
Looking at this random can of Cherry Coke sitting on a shelf in the fridge I asked the question: Is drinking this going to kill me? No. Of course not.
Would I enjoy drinking it? Yes.
So is it worth any anxiety over it? No.
I subsequently drank it and enjoyed it very much. I like Cherry Coke a lot. I always have.
Now I have a soda about once or twice a week, love it and have no worries about it affecting my health whatsoever.
My Thoughts on Soda
Although it didn’t necessarily happen overnight, I started drinking soda again for two main reasons:
1. I don’t think it’s as bad for you as we think it is.
2. I really like drinking it.
That really could be it on the matter but since I like to overthink things, I’ll expand on my thought process a bit…
The Sins of Soda
When people criticize soda it’s for two main reasons: too much sugar and/or the chemicals (coloring, flavoring, preserving).
Sugar – Looking at the sugar content of a soda, it’s a decent amount (typically about 50 grams) but isn’t so much that it makes that much of a difference in a day much less a week, particularly if you start to look at all the sugar people manage to eat without really thinking about it. As a quick example, a yogurt a day ends up contributing the sugar equivalent of 3 sodas a week. I dont think there’s a need to avoid sugar and I would argue that it is a good thing for us from time to time and something that shouldn’t be avoided entirely.
The problem doesn’t lie in the sugar unless the volume grows high (which can often happen) and is a different legitimate discussion (how do we know when sugar is too high?), but isn’t the issue here. The sugar in a soda for me is not a worry and may actually be a benefit from time to time.
Chemicals – That brings us to the added colorings, flavorings and preservatives found in soft drinks. I don’t think they’re good for you, plain and simple. I don’t think they’re going to kill you either, particularly at low levels, which is what I’m talking about when considering to have a soda now and then. Just like sugar, I think that we need to keep our total load of additives/chemicals from all sources in mind. How much exposure to these things do we get every day? Are we worried about the chemicals in soda but not considering everything else?
Consider this: What has more chemicals, Coke or your shampoo? Sprite or your deodorant?
Coke: carbonated water, sugar, caramel color, phosphoric acid, natural flavors, caffeine.
Sprite: water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, natural flavors, sodium citrate, sodium benzoate
Active Ingredient: Triclocarban Inactive Ingredients: Soap (sodium Cocoate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Palmate*, Sodium Tallowate), Water, Talc, Coconut Acid, Palm Acid, Tallow Acid, Palm Kernel Acid, Peg-6 Methyl Ether, Fragrance, Glycerin, Sorbitol, Sodium Chloride, Pentasodium Pentetate, Tetrasodium Etidronate, Titanium Dioxide.
What’s a bigger chemical load to your body on a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly basis? When you look at all the chemicals we can and do put in and on our bodies the amount in a soft drink is pretty trivial, particularly in just one or two a week. How many other things are laden with sugar and chemicals that we take for granted or don’t critique? Is my ingestion of a cherry flavored soft drink any worse than those other things? Particularly since I don’t do most of those other things?
“It’s Just Not Good For You”
This is what I used to say and have heard many people say for a long time. The argument that sodas just are not good for you. How do we know for sure? Why are we making universal statements about things? Why are we applying morality to food? This is an important discussion which I wrote on a while back (Food Friends, Morality & Chocolate Chip Cookies). Not only do we not know anything for certain, there’s no such thing as universally good or bad, and we need to stop labeling things good or bad while ignoring the situation or person it’s being applied to. There are too many variables, including the meaningful concepts of quality of life and personal preferences, not to mention bio-indivuality and personal context.
Just for fun, however, let’s say sodas are bad for you. Is is still bad to have them from time to time? Are they worse than other bad things we do on a daily basis?
A Little Bit of Radiation Never Hurt Anyone…
People drink alcohol, beer and wine all the time and most of us don’t blink an eye. Many of us any claim that drinking a glass or two of alcohol a day is good for you, and although we don’t really know why, people often cite a couple reasons: a little toxic challenge to the system makes us stronger or it enables relaxation and/or enhances the communal aspect of eating. Is soda any different? What if you don’t drink alcohol? Could soda fill the same role in life? Are they pretty much the same thing? I don’t know but just asking a question that needs to be thought about.
Taken a step further- If drinking soda is as bad as smoking as often stated lately, then here’s my thought: Is that really true? Is drinking soda as bad for you as smoking? If so, how about this question: Is smoking bad for you if you have one cigarette a day? How about 2-3 a week? One a week? One or two a month? A couple times a year? How do we know?
And would it still be bad for you if everything else you do is “healthy”?
People wear shoes, many of which have a heel and/or smash your toes together and don’t allow for much range of motion in the foot. I could argue that wearing something like high heels is much worse for someone’s health than having soda. I’ll put a soda up against high heels any day.
The poison is in the dose and context. And those are very difficult to get a handle on.
I don’t drink very much but when I want a soda I drink one. I don’t think anything about it either. I live and eat pretty well most of the time so I feel that soda fits into the realm of occasional enjoyment* that provides more benefit than harm. If I were to be drinking 2 or 3 (or more) a day and wasn’t living a pretty good life in other arenas (including being quite active) then I would have a much harder time rationalizing the risk/benefit outcome. Or, if I had a bunch of other “indulgences” then soda might be adding to the problem instead of adding to my overall health.
*I do think we need to be careful about this line of reasoning because it can be a slippery slope… “Well, since enjoyment is a part of life and I really enjoy soda I’ll have some. You know, I really enjoy hamburgers and fries too. And I love adding a milkshake when I go out. And pancakes are such fun…” Indulgences should be occasional, not regular, and should never come close to outweighing the good and more natural behaviors in your life.
I think many people, in the attempt to be super healthy, lose some of life’s enjoyment. Being healthy doesn’t mean giving up all your indulgences. Being healthy means knowing how to indulge without letting them take over.
I live a life based on natural principles and believe that should form the foundation of everyone’s health platform. I also am a human with several flaws and one of them happens to be soda. I enjoy life much more now that I feel able to have a soda when I want one. Avoiding them out of fear did me no good, even if it provided a slight health benefit.
How do things fit into your life? Are they really that bad for you? How much do you like them? How often do you do them?
If we do the “good” things most of the time it gives us the latitude to have a few “bad” things mixed in to life and they may end up being good for us as a result.
Thanks for reading, have a great day!
P.S. Are the super healthy people missing out on challenges and building stronger bodies because they don’t expose it to bad things?
Thanks for reading, have a great day!
Kyle, I enjoyed your article. My mom would always say everything in moderation:) . I am not a soda drinker, but I do enjoy the carbonation. I find that drinking club soda or something similar works with a lime. I get the fizz without the calories and all the other stuff Try it, you might like it I do agree that a little soda or treats once in a while will not make a difference and will probably help not to crave them. Take care, Nancy PS- are we going to see you in September?
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Thanks Nancy- I agree, the club soda angle was something nice I used for a while (and still do from time to time). And the occasional addition of the indulgence without the guilt allows for much less craving for it, for sure! We are planning to be there in September and can’t wait for it. 🙂