I have been slowly plodding through The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. It is a very informative read about the United States food system and it's evolution. And it's not a pretty picture.
When I was reading through portions of the book that talk about "HFCS" or High Fructose Corn Syrup and how much of it sneaks it's way into our diets thanks in part to the U.S. Government's policies encouraging the modern farmer to produce corn, corn and more corn, I was taken aback when I read just how much soda the average American consumes annually. (now I can't find that exact quote in the book, so I looked it up online) As of the year 2000 the number was at 53 GALLONS of soda per person, per year. That's in addition to any other sugary / HFCS that Americans consume. Soda is the #1 source of sugar in the American diet. The average teen in America consumes 750 cans of soda a year. Soda contributes to about 10% of calories in the American diet.
According to the USDA, in 1983 boys consumed more than twice as much milk than soft drinks, and girls consumed 50% more milk than soft drinks. By 1996, boys and girls consumed twice as much soda as milk. Wow. That's BOYS and GIRLS! Children. This is mind boggling to me.
Just this week I watched a segment on 20/20 by Diane Sawyer titled "Children of the Mountain" where she interviewed children in eastern Kentucky. She was exploring their schools, their standard of living, coal mining, alcoholism, drug addiction and their diet. Apparently folks in the mountains of Kentucky are addicted to Mountain Dew. Adults are putting the stuff in sippy cups! This is the children's main beverage. When a traveling dentist featured in the show (who gives children free dental care) asked children whose teeth were rotting (brown and misshapen) what they drank, the children responded "Mountain Dew". Not "milk, juice, water and Mountain Dew". Nope. Just "Mountain Dew". As an aside, the folks at Pepsi who make Mountain Dew came out (trying to put a damper on this public relations nightmare) and explained that they were concerned "about overuse or misuse of the soda by small children" and promised to buy the traveling dentist an additional van to compliment the traveling dentist office (built on a 18 wheeler flatbed truck). This was after making a hideous statement claiming that Diane Sawyer's news was " . . . old irresponsible news . . . " and that " . . . it was preposterous to blame soft drinks or any one food for poor dental health". Really? Then how about diabetes?
This is not just relegated to the mountains of Kentucky however. We followed our long time pediatrician to a clinic when he had to close his office. The pediatric clinic serves a lot of low income, inner-city families. When we went there recently, our pediatrician explained that there was an incredible pediatric dental office upstairs. He added that this was a good thing and a necessity because so many of the children were given so much sugar in their diet that their teeth were rotting. Children would go into the clinic and have multiple teeth pulled at their first visit. Sad.
Since Benjamin was a baby our pediatrician has encouraged us to serve only milk and water to our children for beverages. Our pediatrician has discouraged us from giving our children juice because of it's highly concentrated sugar content (albeit from fruit).
What are we thinking? Why are we consuming all of this stuff? It's an addiction to caffeine and sugar. There is no nutritional value in soda -- (and diet soda is just as bad thanks to all of the artificial sweeteners). Water from the tap is pretty much free -- even if you get a water bill -- and has more regulations to pass than bottled water for safety. Mountain Dew incidentally has 50% more caffeine than Coke or Pepsi, and has a high acid level making the risk for tooth decay even worse.
One of the things that Michael Pollan points out in The Omnivore's Dilemma is the lack of nutritional value per calorie when we are eating processed foods with (even without) HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup). There is wisdom in eating unprocessed, whole foods. If you are looking for nutritional value, whole foods are less expensive. Sadly, an unhealthy meal from McDonald's with very little nutritional value and plenty of unhealthy ingredients, is very inexpensive. But processed foods with little nutritional value leave you unsatisfied and wanting more. Why are Americans suffering from obesity and diabetes? Gee, isn't it obvious?
What do we have on hand to drink in our home for our children? Water (filtered, from the well) and Milk, from the local milkman. What do we have on hand to drink in our home for the adults? Water, Milk, Green Tea, Herbal Teas, Coffee (our one cup a day!) and Red Wine.