Tuesday, April 1, 2008

the problems with soda

I am sorry for the big break.  I have had quite a week. I guess I always knew that when life asserted itself I would run out of time to prattle on about food.   But here I am with a bit of time.   So I turn my attentions to that nefarious beast:  Soda.

I have been working all morning to find more about the sugar/high fructose corn syrup content of Coca Cola.  At the moment all I have found is the current numbers:

In 12 Oz. of Coca Cola there are 39g of HFCS.  This amounts to 11.4% of the beverage's content. This is a fair bit of fructose, to be sure.  What I have been trying to determine is if Coca Cola has been increasing the amount of HFCS in their recipe over the years to soak up the surplus' of corn provided by agri-business.  What I have learned is that more research is necessary.  

But, in the process I have found out some fun things about the Coca Cola Co.  Who happen to not be the happy friendly folks that you might think of while watching infant Polar Bears sliding down icy hillsides into the bosom of their loving mother, and a coca cola classic.  

Coca Cola and Cocaine
As it turns out, Coca Cola still uses Coca Leaves in production.  Their plant, in Maywood, NJ imports massive quantities of "non-narcotic" or "spent" coca leaves.  This plant is a stunning exemption to the anti-narcotic regulations of the DEA.  It is the only plant in the country that imports the leaves.  This is possible due to the massive lobbying power of the Coca Cola Company, who spent over $1 million on lobbying in 2006 alone.  However, It is highly unlikely that these leaves are providing americans, who drink over 400 cans each of Coca Cola a year, with a quick narcotic fix.  Studies have shown only trace amounts of the stimulant, not enough to have any kind of effect on our physiology.

Actually, it is kind of a cool exemption from regulation, as the leaves have been in the recipe for Coca Cola since its inception in 1884.  And who wants regulation anyway? 

But, (isn't there always a "but"?) to get these leaves the Coca-Cola Co. must constantly manage business ties with Columbia, the major producer of the leaves.  This is not a pleasant business, to say the least.  

now, here's the kicker:
The Coca-Cola Co. has been accused of aiding para-military groups in breaking up union activity in Columbia.  Here is just one of the many articles on these shady dealings.  Dealings that have led to lawsuits in several states, and a full boycott of Coca-Cola products by several Colleges and Universities, including NYU, Carleton College and Oberlin College.  

The Coca Cola company insists that it has had no connections with para-military groups in Columbia, or with kidnappings, torture, and the murder of Union Activists.

Coca Cola in India
To keep this one short:  Coca-Cola Plants in India are exacerbating water shortages and contaminating the remaining water supply and soil.  In some communities, like this one, 80% of the local population rely on functional agriculture for their food resources.  I am just scratching the surface here.

The Aspartame Mythologies
Diet Coke, the savior of the company as America entered the Obesity age.  Diet Coke was introduced in 1982.  It was introduced to counter claims that high-calorie diets were causing Obesity in Americans.  The key here is one word:  Calorie.  Actually it is a Kilocalorie, or Kcal, but we never use that distinction.  Essentially a Kcal measures the amount of energy derived from our food.  It is not a static measure, as food labels mislead.  If food is consumed, the body uses energy to process that food (the Kcal measures how much), and nutrients are extracted in the process (there are not accurate measures of this, as we can measure what comes in more effectively then what it becomes).  With movement and activity we create the need for a balance of food energy extraction and nutrient distribution to our musculature and physiology in general.  
The basic idea was this:  the higher the caloric power of food, the more difficult it is to break down, and the more exercise and activity is needed to distribute the processed food.
But why were we taking in so many "calories" of food in 1982?  From 1976 on, Earl Butz and the Nixon administration's obsession with creating agri-business in America provided us with incredible surplus' of Corn, and other monocultures.  This surplus was then pushed into the food supply, (HFCS was introduced in coca cola in 1980) creating food that had more and more carbohydrates per serving, i.e. more calories.  This in turn began the process of the fattening of America.  
So Coke responded with a Calorie-free beverage.  Using aspartame.  Since 1982, a generation of Americans has bought into the mythology that Calorie-free = healthy.  There are so many problems with this.  First, we stop exercising, thinking that we don't need to break down our food now that it is lower in calories.  Next, we drink more Diet Coke, guilt-free.  Then we ignore the mounting research linking aspartame with Leukemia and Lymphoma.  

But they say it is safe!  This is from the horse's mouth (coca-cola co. of course):
"Aspartame was first approved by the FDA in 1981. Since that time, it has undergone hundreds of studies for safety. All of them point to the same conclusion: Aspartame is safe for consumers. There is no sound scientific evidence that is accepted by food safety authorities linking aspartame, or other low-calorie sweeteners, to cancer in humans. When aspartame was first approved, the FDA commissioner said, ''Few compounds have withstood such detailed testing and repeated, close scrutiny, and the process through which aspartame has gone should provide the public with additional confidence of its safety.''

Scientists outside of the FDA (remember: $1 million lobbying in 2006?) are calling aspartame out.  This article has loads of miserable and incisive information about Aspartame.  The most interesting part?  Aspartame makes you fat.  Go ahead, drink it up!  No Calories!  

What are we to do?  

My answer is to eliminate soda altogether.  Too difficult?  First try and get in under the national average of 400+ cans/year.  Then slowly decrease the amount and see what happens. In my case I have begun to dislike soda, finding it far too sweet.
I think the key here is to eliminate both natural sweeteners and artificial ones.  Sugar in such large quantities clearly will tax the system, eventually to a diabetic state.  Aspartame will likely enable obesity, and potentially cause cancer.  So why bother?  Why be slaves to the consumption machine?  Let's be better then that. 

Be Well.

1 comment:

poxod said...

I drink coke from an 8oz glass bottle. Better taste, less sugar, retro-cool.