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Heard: ‘Everybody I know is giving up pop’

Published 9:13am Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Column: Pothole Prairie, by Tim Engstrom

Goodbye to pop. Goodbye to caffeine.

I went to Jake’s Pizza for lunch on Friday. The young woman who works at the counter asked me if I wanted a pop. I told her, “I don’t drink pop anymore.” She asked if I wanted a lemonade instead, and I said that would be fine. As I walked to my seat, she turned to her friend and said, “Everybody I know is giving up pop.”

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg might not have been able to stop the sale of large quantities of soda, but his actions have continued the national conversation about the ill effects of massive doses of sugary drinks.

Now, I know my lemonade that day was sugary, too, but at least I was able to maintain my moratorium on drinking pop. An occasional lemonade at restaurants is a trade-off for not drinking soda at all. Perhaps eventually I can cut out all sugary drinks, too.

So where do I stand on Bloomberg’s proposed cap on serving sizes for soda? I don’t know, frankly. On one hand, I agree public health measures work. I mean, New York was the leader for smoking and nonsmoking sections in restaurants. Look how that changed America. Capping serving sizes causes people to think twice before drinking more pop. On the other hand, there are many causes for the obesity problems Americans face, and picking on pop seems rather arbitrary.

So forget whether the ban is right or wrong legally. Think about the motivation behind implementing it. That’s why I dropped pop from my diet.

Everybody knows that sugar is bad for you. That includes all refined sugars, from pure cane sugar to high-fructose corn syrup to dextrose. The average person consumes almost 400 calories of refined sugars a day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Centers for Science in the Public Interest Director Michael Jacobson argues that sugary soft drinks are the No. 1 source for empty calories in children, which doesn’t bode well for solving our national childhood obesity problem. Pop is like liquid candy.

He points out in his column on Huffington Post several studies that show people who drink sugary soft drinks face a higher risk of weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and gout.

And he states this: “And when researchers give people hefty amounts of fructose, which constitutes about half of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, they see a rise in deep belly fat and in blood levels of triglycerides, glucose, insulin and LDL (bad) cholesterol — all precursors of heart disease. Moreover, the more sugar (from foods and beverages) that people consume, the fewer nutrients they get.”

OK, that’s all I need to hear. No more pop for me.

I actually quit several weeks ago, but I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t go about saying to people, “I am trying to quit pop.” Instead, I just quit outright. As Yoda said in “The Empire Strikes Back”: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

And then last week, I cut out caffeine. No, there is no national debate over caffeine — and I love coffee — but I grit my teeth too much, and caffeine was the cause, even at other times of day. Besides, caffeine is a drug. The fewer drugs in my system, the better off I am.

Of course, there are controversies over artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, which some say causes cancer and other side effects. Aspartame is in many diet sodas. I don’t pretend to know whether aspartame is good or bad, but I can tell you this: I never have believed diet soda was better for you. In fact, the more engineered a food product is, the less good for you it probably is. When I was a pop drinker, I stayed away from diet brands.

Conclusion: Be smart about what you put in your body. You need it to survive.
Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.