Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Scary Thought

Toronto is mulling over the idea of offering only diet (meaning aspartame laced) drinks in high school vending machines. There are good intentions here - the school board wants to limit students' exposure to high caloried glorified corn syrup (otherwise known as pop). Of course, once those good intentions come up against corporate sponsors (Coke and Pepsi), all bets are off and stupid self-serving ideas seep in.

Aspartame is not the answer. Not only are there lingering health questions tied to the products, there is also the simple fact that a substance 150 times sweeter than sugar actually makes a person crave more sweets (and my nutritionist thinks I don't listen to her). When you think about it, it's not that surprising - how many people do you know that really lose weight drinking 'diet' pop?

As for the health issues, here is a list of illnesses that have been associated with aspartame: brain tumors, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, parkinson's disease, alzheimer's, mental retardation, lymphoma, birth defects, fibromyalgia, and diabetes. While I already knew about a few of them before today (apparently the rate of MS among female office workers is off the charts), there were some surprises. And yet this stuff is considered safe for human consumption.

So what is the solution? Fruit juice? Not really. Contrary to what they tell you in the commercials, drinking a bottle of fruit juice is not the equivalent of eating so much fruit. What you really get is all the sugar, some of the nutrients and almost none of the fibre you get from eating fruit. Furthermore, because of its concentrated nature, you are consuming far more of those sugars in one sitting than you really should. Before fruit juices are considered, they really must also look at portion control and reducing the size of the packaging. A half litre of orange juice in a sitting just isn't that good for you.

Water? Yup, but not in those nasty plastic bottles. If the school board was truly interested in their students' health, they should probably offer free stainless steel water bottles and put a tap beside every water fountain so the students can fill them when they want. Tap water is no worse than what you find in the plastic bottles. In fact, in the case of Aquafina (Pepsi's water) and Dasani (Coke's water), that's all you're getting (read the label if you think I'm wrong and realize that those 'municipal sources' are the same sources you tap when you get a glass of water in the kitchen, only wrapped in plastic).

I don't know what the solution is. Personally, I figure if they keep the vending machine, they should keep all the options available, even normal pop. What I would like to see most is a huge reduction in portion sizes. Do you realize that the child size pop served in most fast food joints is bigger than size of pop they served to adults in restaurants in the 50's? Remember how much smaller cans were in the 80's? I say offer the drinks but drop the sizes to something a little more manageable.

While we're on the topic of drinks, I would like to burst one bubble (it's a pet peeve). So-called "flavoured water". I know, you feel real good because look at all the water you're drinking. Isn't that great? No. You're just drinking watered down juice or uncarbonated pop. Would you let your kids go around drinking kool-aid all the time? I didn't think so. So why is it okay for adults to break out the drink crystals every time they want a drink of water?

It's not really the product I am opposed to. I spent a large part of my adult life drinking sugared pops so I'm not in a great position to criticize what people want to drink. Besides, if an adult wants to drink juice drinks all day, he or she should be able to. It's the marketing that offends me. I hate the fact that these concoctions are marketed as being the same as having a glass of water, which they aren't. By the logic these companies use, we're all just water drinkers. I mean, what is coffee if not just flavoured water? Beer? Tea? Argh!


Barbara Bruederlin said...

If you are looking for an argument from me, you are not going to get one. They should just install more water fountains in the schools, or clean the garbage out of the ones that they do have.

John Mutford said...

While I agree that juice is not the same as eating fruit, it's certainly better than diet pop. There are some nutrients after all and if it's unsweetened (which in Canada, it's usually the case that anything unsweetened is called "juice", but if sugar is added it's called "drink"-- and I know fruits have natural sugars, but we're talking about stuff added artificially). Besides, if it's about pleasing those pesky sponsors (and believe me, I have huge issues with schools saying the "need" corporate sponsors), Coke owns Minute Maid, so a small compromise could be juice. (Of course, without caffeine, their customers can't get hooked on juice, and now we slip into another conspiracy theory). By the way, another ailment brought on by aspartame that you didn't mention: migraines. For me, a can of that stuff rips my skull apart.