Returning from a mini ski vacation in Colorado, I overheard a flight attendant educating passengers on which choice was better: Diet Coke or Coke Zero. It’s not that she offered them unsolicited advice. They asked. “Neither of them has sugar. It’s really all in the taste,” she said, as if echoing a Coke commercial. Three people opted for Coke Zeros in favor of Diet Coke. She offered them an insurance policy: “I’ll give you the Diet if you don’t like it!”
While moving the cart back up through the tiny aisle, she happily offered free refills. Something for nothing. Free refills of Coke Zero. It doesn’t count. It’s completely free. Free of charge and free of calories, but if there’s anything we know by now … it’s that if something seems too good to be true, it is.
Growing up here in Vermont, on the “Ice Coast” as my husband has deemed it, I can ski anything but powder. I’m like the postal workers of skiing. Give me rain, hail, ice, sleet or snow and I’ll make it happen. Give me powder? What am I supposed to do with that? My first reaction was to cut, cut hard and fast just like on icy patches, but upon meeting a ski instructor who seemed to be into giving out free advice (too good to be true?), I learned how to lean forward a bit more and rock side to side to enable the float. I actually had to work less. Is it possible to do less and get more reward?
This vacation taught me a lot more than the fact that I could trust my in-laws and my mom to care for our babies. It taught me how to ski powder and that I could actually talk to my husband about more than just what to make for dinner, while making eye contact, no less.
It also reinforced that vacation eating doesn’t need to be a thing. I wasn’t inclined to drink that much since we got more bang for our buck at the higher altitude, but I really didn’t alter my eating that much. A hot chocolate here and there (I skipped the carrageenan-laced whipped cream) or a chocolate chip cookie passed out at the base of the mountain was fine. We even ordered dessert one night.
Many of us are in the post-holiday phase where we are “trying to be good,” “on a diet,” “looking to lose weight” or “trying to slim down,” but it doesn’t have to be that way. Diets have been around for centuries — long before processed foods, as it’s possible to eat too much of anything (except maybe salad) and gain weight — calories in, calories out, right? Our obesity epidemic exploded as a result of a multitude of things — an abundance of available, cheap, convenient foods, less and less time to prepare meals and to eat as a family and of course those prolific artificial sweeteners. Once we started trying to hide calories and trick our bodies into believing they were getting something for nothing, we were in real trouble.
As it turns out, it’s not just about the taste. We are all familiar with high fructose corn syrup and know that it is (justifiably) maligned. We may even steer clear of regular soda in favor of diet for that very reason, but artificial sweeteners are as bad, if not worse than the evil acronym HFCS. Dozens of studies have linked the world’s most popular sweetener, aspartame, with afflictions from migraines, dementia, seizures and strokes to weight gain and mood disorders. Contrary to getting something for nothing, aspartame has been linked to increased appetite, sabotaging the one reason we drink the diet stuff! To stay (or get) fit!
A new study conducted on mice links aspartame with anxiety, a condition affecting nearly 20 percent of Americans. The study attributes changes in the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for regulating anxiety and fear) to aspartame consumption. What’s more, it was found that those changes were passed down for up to two generations.
The most widely used sweetener in the U.S., Splenda (the brand name for sucralose), shot to success when it was marketed as “made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.” Oddly enough, Splenda was approved by the FDA in 1998 after a decade of consideration for use in 15 food categories. It took 10 years for that approval, yet only a year later, the agency upgraded it to a general-purpose sweetener. Splenda has been linked to weight gain, obesity, liver inflammation and many other conditions and diseases.
Sucralose is essentially chlorinated sugar. It enters our bodies under the cloak of its chlorine camouflage, attempting to trick our finely adept bodies. It has been linked to increased appetite and metabolic dysfunction (ever wonder why metabolic syndrome is such a catch phrase these days?). Not only does it keep us coming back for more, but it’s also been linked to diabetes, the very thing it caters to in its marketing campaign.
Of course, aspartame and/or its counterpart, sucralose, isn’t only found in diet sodas. We wouldn’t be that lucky. Making it more difficult to avoid, they’re found in products like Jell-O, and most foods labeled “diet,” “low sugar” or “no sugar added.” These sweeteners are hiding in foods like breads, ketchup, “sugar-free” candies and gums, energy drinks, electrolyte water, salad dressings and even children’s medicines (don’t even talk to me about those gummy vitamins).
There are few things upon which the Coca-Cola Company and I agree (I kicked my addiction to those bad boys when I was 12). The exception is its longtime slogan “the real thing.” Eat the real food, drink the real drinks. If you want something sweet, use natural sweeteners. We just can’t get something for nothing.
DIY healthy “soda”
1 cup soda water, unflavored
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Squeeze of lemon, if desired
Mix ingredients together and enjoy!
(I know it sounds crazy, but try it!)
Katharine A. Jameson, a certified nutrition counselor who grew up in Williamsville and Townshend, writes about food and health for Vermont News & Media. For more tricks, tips and hacks, find her on Instagram: @foodforthoughtwithkat