Some Thoughts on Soda

Does anyone still need to be told how bad soda is? Regular soda is loaded with calories. For most soda drinkers it is the single biggest source of calories in their diet.

Because these calories are coming in liquid form they have what is known in the food industry as "disappearing caloric density". This simply means that the calories will not completely register on your emotional mind because they spent so little time in your mouth, leading you to overconsume.

The calories for most sodas these days come from high fructose corn syrup. The evidence is debatable, but it is possible that HFCS is stored as fat more easily and rapidly than other refined sugars. HFCS does not occur in nature.

Diet sodas are sweetened with artificial chemicals. While these are supposed to be safe, they are still artificial. It doesn't make sense that your body would be prepared to efficiently or effectively handle them.

Soda of any type is carbonated, which means it will increase gastric pressure when it hits your stomach. This can lead to or worsen heartburn and acid reflux.

Highly sweetened beverages like soda, when consumed with food, can make the food more appetizing, leading you to overeat.

Why is Soda so Good?

It could be the sweetness. But that wouldn't explain why you don't like flat soda.

So maybe it's the fizz. But that wouldn't explain why you prefer cold soda to warm soda, which is substantially fizzier.

What you probably love about soda is the combination of sweetness and the acidity that comes with the fizz. Dissolving carbon dioxide into a liquid creates a mild acid called carbonic acid. This is what gives you that very slight burning sensation at the back of your throat when you drink soda. When soda goes flat it is still sweet, but it is no longer acidic.

Many people who give up soda put lemon juice in their water to maintain that acidic taste. The problem is that lemon juice is sour rather than sweet. To get the same level of acid, the water will become too sour for most people to enjoy.

Here is a suggestion. Try adding flavored light balsamic vinegar to water. It is both sweet and acidic so it has a lot of the same appeal as soda without being fizzy and without adding a lot of refined sugar.

Balsamic vinegar is made from grape juice, so for the most part the sweetness comes from naturally-occurring sugars, which your body handles much better than refined sugar. Just a couple tablespoons per glass will add about 30 calories versus 90 calories from regular soda. And the source of the calories is much healthier.

Vinegars are also great on baked potatoes and, of course, salads. We have a limited selection of flavor-infused vinegars for sale. They are very thick and must be stirred into the water.

To Eat Animals or Not

A conversation between Carla the Carnivore and Megan the Vegan.

Carla: We must be carnivores. We have canine teeth whose only purpose is killing.

Megan: I am trying to imagine you killing a cow with your pathetic little canine teeth. If you want to kill all your food with your mouth, which is what predators do, take a lesson from the gorilla and eat animals that are appropriate for your mouth size like insects, grubs and snails. We do not have to be carnivores.

Carla: Maybe not. But we don't have to be strict vegetarians either. In general, people love the taste of animal flesh. Why would we love something if it was so bad for us?

Megan: Taste is hardly something to go by. Highly processed foods have been engineered to be delicious and you have no problem accepting that they are something to be avoided, even if you can't avoid them. Besides, the motivation of taste would play out much differently in a natural environment with a limited supply of animals. Cheap factory meat creates a wholly different environment.

Carla: Okay, how about the simple fact that we can extract copious amounts of nutrients from animal flesh through digestion without getting sick?

Megan: I will grant you that animals represent a dense source of nutrients. That's why it would make sense for humans to desire them so much in a natural environment. However, you can't be serious when you say we don't get sick from eating them. Even the food-borne illnesses spread through produce are usually the responsibility of some animal. E.coli lives exclusively in the intestines of animals. Produce gets contaminated either by some animal in the field or by contaminated equipment. And that's not even counting all the 24-hour "bugs" that are called the "flu" but are actually mild cases of food poisoning from animal products.

Carla: I don't know about all that. You could be making it up. The point is that humans can eat an animal and digest it. Herbivores will get sick if they eat animals because they are incapable of properly digesting them. Therefore, we are not just herbivores, we are also carnivores. Which, of course, makes us omnivores.

Megan: Actually, my point is not that we can't eat animals but that we don't have to and therefore shouldn't. Our mouths are clearly not designed to tear flesh from bones. Our carnivorous past is well behind us.

Carla: If you are saying we are better designed to eat plants, I would have to disagree. Our mouths are clearly not designed to chew fibrous material for hours on end. If you say we're not carnivores I say we're not herbivores. Omnivores are supposed to be both. So, where does that leave us?

Chef: I think I can answer that question. You're both right about the design of our mouths. They're small. They're weak. They have three types of teeth - slicing, killing and grinding - that are all woefully inadequate for their assigned tasks. But there is one thing that we humans do that no other animal on the planet does and it explains why our mouths are so uniquely shaped. We cook our food. And we've been doing so for thousands of years.

Think of everything this explains. We have largely lost our ability to digest raw meat. But cook that meat and you will kill many of the dangerous pathogens and partially denature the proteins, rendering the meat safer and more digestible. Likewise, we don't have the ability to grind fibrous plant matter down to release the nutrients. But cooking softens and breaks down the fibers and, as an added bonus, neutralizes many toxins that would otherwise make some plants inedible.

So we are omnivores, but a very specific type of omnivores - what has come to be known as Coctivores (from the Latin coquere - to cook). As a species, humans have adapted to have some of the energy that would have been used for digestion instead expended on the food outside the body during cooking. Which means that we have adapted to having our nutrients concentrated and made more accessible before we consume them.

Which explains why people are able to follow highly processed diets for decades on end before it finally makes them sick. Some people are so well-adapted to a processed diet that they will never even get fat from it, much less sick.

For the rest of us cooking has gone too far. Even before you add in artificial substances with ultimately unknown health consequences, modern processing techniques are capable of concentrating some nutrients while eliminating others to a degree several orders of magnitude greater than would come from traditional cooking (i.e., just heating the food).