"They are sick that surfeit with too much, as they that starve with nothing."
Nutrition 911, Part VI: The Worst Food on the Planet
By Steve Edwards
Welcome to Part VI of our oh-so-basic nutrition class designed to give you an overview of basic nutrition and make healthy eating much simpler. In Part I, we addressed the terms organic, grass-fed, free-range, and farm-raised. Part II analyzed the ever-popular "fat-free" and trendy "low-carb" slogans. In Part III, we took the CliffsNotes approach to reading food labels. Part IV tackled dessert.
Last time (Part V), we discussed what you should eat. This time, let's talk about what you shouldn't eat. Actually, I mean drink; leading to our first lesson of the day. Calories are calories, whether you eat them or drink them. And just what are the worst calories you can consume? The answer is soda pop. Forget about brands; whether it's Coke, Barq's Root Beer, or Dr. Pepper, it's all junk. The taste might make you happy, but from a nutritional point of view, soda's only place in the world is to make people fat, sick, and unhappy.
In America, we drink a lot of cola (or "un-cola"). A lot. On average we each drank 52.4 gallons in 2005, and this figure includes infants, healthy folks, prisoners, etc., meaning that the average soda drinker actually gulps (their word) more than this. Carbonated soft drinks are the biggest single caloric source in the American diet. Teenagers, in particular, are hooked on the stuff and get an average of 13 percent of their daily calories from "pop." If this doesn't scare you, it should.
In terms of sheer amount, these statistics could be alarming if it were any one food. A proper diet should have some balance and diversity. And soda pop is the antithesis of "any food." It's bad food.
We use the term "empty calories" for foods, like soda, that have no place in a nutritious diet. I feel this term is misleading. The calories in soda are far from empty. Most of them come from sugar. In the USA, it's nearly always high-fructose corn syrup, the cheapest, most processed sugar on the market. Other ingredients include caffeine, various phosphates and acids, and artificial colorings. We'll get to their effects on the human body in a minute, but first, let's stick to the simple stuff. The average teenager consumes between 10 and 15 teaspoons per day of refined sugar via sodaabout their daily requirement, according to government standards, for all foods. This means, that for the average teenager, their soda consumption virtually eliminates their chances of eating a balanced diet. There's nothing empty about that.
The soda companies are a marketing juggernaut. They spend roughly $700 million a year on media advertising alone. Not to mention hundreds of millions more sponsoring events, athletes, musicians, and such. This volume of cash makes it difficult for consumers to avoid them, by design. To avoid the temptation to drink Coke, you've got to be highly principled or living in the middle of the jungle. And even then, well, I once happened upon a soda vending machine halfway up Mount Yarigatake in the Japanese Alps and a friend traveling in Guatemala found Coke in a rural area that didn't have running water. Let's just say, they're going to continue to make it easy for you to find the stuff.
This type of marketing machine won't go away quietly. With the stats above, you could certainly put two and two together and link soda companies to the childhood (and adult) obesity epidemic that is arguably the world's most serious health crisis. Yet, while researching this article I came across a widely published "study" stating that "soft drink consumption has no effect on childhood obesity." Suspicious from the get-go (the word "no" being a huge red flag), it didn't take me long to find this statement: "The research paper was supported by an unrestricted gift from the American Beverage Association." Bingo. Remember those Phillip Morris tobacco "studies" that promised a long and healthy life from chain smoking?
What makes it so bad?
Besides the simple caloric trade-off, sodas are formulated to give you a rush. The sugar is mixed with phosphates designed to speed it into your system. It's so good, in fact, that many cyclists prefer Coca-Cola to specific sports food when they need a sugar rush near the end of races. And, while a sugar rush is a good thing when you're trying to exceed your anaerobic threshold and are out of blood glycogen (never mind, if you don't know what this is), it's a bad thing whenever you're not, which is even a competitive cyclist's state of being 99 percent of the time.
Beyond the simple sugar rush, these acids and phosphates alter your body's pH levels and inhibit absorption of other nutrients. Then there are the effects of certain artificial coloring agents. For example, yellow #5, commonly used in soft drinks, has been linked to attention deficit disorder, hives, asthma, and other allergic reactions in some children.
Then there is the nutrient trade-off to consider. A person who drinks a Big Gulp per day must go to great lengths to maintain a balanced diet. Otherwise they will almost certainly be deficient in numerous vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and essential fatty or amino acidsnone of which are found in soda. For this reason, soda is often linked to type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, dental erosion, and a higher risk of kidney stones and heart disease. And that's just a start. There's plenty of less scientific data linking soda to poor scholastic habits.
Diet sodas and juices
In an attempt to become thought of as healthier, soda companies have diversified into non-carbonated beverages and diet sodas. While these are an improvement in some ways, they are hardly a solution to the problem.
First off, most juices and other caloric non-soda alternatives are mainly just sugar and water without the carbonation. A quick label comparison between a commercial orange juice and a Mountain Dew would show a similar "bottom line" with regards to calories and sugar. The only improvement would be the lack of the non-caloric offenders.
But that's no small matter, as the true effects of these ingredients have not been thoroughly studied. Despite their no-calorie status, diet sodas have been linked to assorted illnesses. There is no good science on this yet but my own anecdotal evidence is, so far, 100% accurate. I've yet to have a client not lose weight by kicking diet soda. Granted, all of my clients drank an excessive amount, but regardless, there is little doubt that the pH balance of diet sodas hinders the body's ability to absorb nutrients. One client, a female athlete, lost 15 pounds by making no other dietary change but eliminating diet soda. Fifteen pounds and zero caloriesmore weird science. The bottom line to all this is that, for best results, your body would be happier if you cut most of the calories out of your liquids and cut out soft drinkscaloric or notaltogether.
How can you help?
In my world, soft drinks would come with the same type of regulatory language as cigarettes and booze, at least. Actually, in my world we'd all be educated and wouldn't require this language at all, but that's politics 911, not nutrition 911. Anyway, here are five ways you can help educate the public about the dangers of soda, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Contact your local government officials and/or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and suggest that:
- National and local governments should require chain restaurants to declare the calorie content of soft drinks and all other items on menus and menu boards.
- The FDA should require labels on non-diet soft drinks to state that frequent consumption of those drinks promotes obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, osteoporosis, and other health problems.
- Local, state, and federal governments should provide water fountains in schools, government buildings, parks, and other public spaces.
- School systems and other organizations catering to children should stop selling soft drinks (as well as candy and other junk foods) in hallways, shops, and cafeterias.
- State and local governments should consider levying small taxes on soft drinks, with the revenues earmarked for promoting health and fitness. A national 2-cent tax on a can of soda pop would raise $3 billion annually.
For questions and/or comments on this article, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Responses to your questions may be seen at Steve Edwards' Mailbag.
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So Little Time, So Many House Parties . . .
By Carl Daikeler, CEO of Beachbody.com
A thousand Turbo JamTM house parties on Saturday, May 6th, to be exact! We're trying something completely new to get friends and neighbors to pull together to lose weight and get in shape in 10-day, Turbo Jam style!
Here's how it will work:
- Apply to be a host. Turbo Jam customers can apply now to host their very own Turbo Jam House Party on May 6th, inviting their friends, coworkers, neighbors, and clones to kick off their weight loss with a focused 10-day challenge using the Turbo SlimTM diet program.
- Get your free party kit. What's in it for you besides the "feel good" and peer support to achieve 10 pounds of weight loss? The host gets a complete party kit, including a DVD with Chalene's personal instructions showing how she throws a house party, an original TJ party soundtrack, a DVD featuring Chalene for your guests to watch to get a feel for what they can achieve in 10 days, a Beachbody backpack, plus the Turbo Jam workouts on DVDall free. Yes, FREE!
- Party! Everybody at the party on May 6th then gets psyched to launch into their 10-day Turbo slim-down. Then everybody starts the 10-day challenge on the same day, May 15th.
- Share the funand get support! The exclusive House Party Web site at will feature photos, videos, party blogs, and comments from our 1,000 superstar Turbo Jam House Party hosts. Chalene will post personal messages, tips, invitation suggestions, and more. And the photos will keep coming all week as people work out together, celebrate early success, and just plain jam it, "Turbo Style."
- Celebrate your success! Ten days later, on May 25th, everyone gets together again for the "Weigh Out" house party. That's when the celebration continues as you and your friends see what's really possible when you all pull together, share accountability, and stick with your commitment. (And with just a couple months to summer, isn't now the time to kick your weight loss into high gear?)
And Chalene's actually coming over!
Of course, there's no way to keep Chalene at home when there's a party goin' on! The blonde sparkplug from the O.C. is flying to the May 6th "Weigh In" house party of the host who generates the most orders prior to May 1st. And then, the host who generates the most orders prior to May 15th will get a visit from Chalene at the "Weigh Out" party on May 25th! How's that for motivation to get your friends to go for it?
The revolution begins at your house (at 30% off!)
This is a grand experiment, seeing if the community spirit of support and positive accountability we see online can spread with the same enthusiasm into your neighborhood. This could revolutionize fitness and weight loss. So to help make it happen, we're giving each host a special discount promo code so the people who sign up can get Turbo Jam at 30% off. (We haven't seen that price since we launched this thing last summer!)
If you're a Team Beachbody® Club Member, visit Chalene's Corner for her expert tips and advice. Not a Team Beachbody® Club Member? Click here to start your membership right away!
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Yoga vs. Pilates
By Kathy Smith, creator of Project: YOU TM
When people speak of the physical benefits of exercise, they tend to focus on the three S's of strength, stamina, and slimmingso their training programs usually consist of weight lifting to build muscle, with some form of aerobic activity to build cardiovascular endurance and burn calories. But there's a second tier of benefits now making their way onto the A-list. These include flexibility, coordination, posture, and stress relief.
It's not that these secondary benefits weren't always importantit's just that they're more in the spotlight these days thanks to the growing popularity of so-called "softer" training modalities. Two of the most popular of these are yoga and Pilates.
Yoga, of course, has been popular in the U.S. for decades. I started practicing yoga more than 20 years ago and it's still one of my favorite ways to tone my body and calm my mind. Pilates, though, is a newer trend that apparently still has many people baffled. I often get letters inquiring about the difference between Pilates and yoga and asking which I recommend. As with most "which do I recommend" questions, the answer depends on your physical goals. Simply put, the difference between yoga and Pilates is that between East and West. Both systems build strength and flexibility; the difference between them is not so much physical as it is philosophical.
A tale of two workouts:
- Yoga. Yoga is based on the Eastern idea of moving energy through your body. The more freely the energy flows, the healthier and more energetic you feel. Physical tension hinders the flow; over time, areas of tension in your body can become tight and rigid, even painful. The goal of yoga is to keep the body supple through movement and stretching. But there's another dimension. Yoga is a holistic spiritual discipline with its roots in Eastern forms of meditation. The physical postures, although they condition the body, are really aimed at the mind. They symbolize the goal of living your life in a state of balance and composure. When I spend an hour in a yoga class, I melt into a kind of meditative state and emerge wonderfully relaxed and refreshed.
Pilates. On the other hand, Pilates is physical conditioning first and foremostand there's nothing quite like it. Its creator, Joseph Pilates, was looking for a way to rehabilitate injured soldiers after World War I. He developed an assortment of curious machines with names like the "Reformer" and the "Cadillac." Using cables and trolleys and unusual body positioning, Pilates exercises stretch and strengthen and are unique in their ability to encourage coordination between the muscles that stabilize the body.
Pilates techniques quickly became a hit with dancers, who found them a highly effective way to improve body awareness and alignment and promote graceful, fluid motion. Machine-based Pilates actually has more in common with weight training than with yoga since it involves moving against resistance (provided by springs) with the aim of overloading the muscles. In particular it resembles functional strength exercises such as squats or cable pulls. There's also a new form of Pilates, the Pilates mat class, which relies more on calisthenics-style exercises and stretches. This form is physically more similar to a yoga class, though the emphasis is still on physical change rather than on spiritual development through postures and breathing.
The choice is yours
I think it's fair to say that yoga is more about how it makes you feel while Pilates is about how you lookhow you carry yourself and move. So if you're looking for a limbering, rejuvenating workout that will provide as much of a lift for your brain as your bodyand you're not too concerned about building muscleI'd recommend yoga. If you're interested in a more dynamic system of muscle conditioningor if you just want to try something new and differentPilates may be the answer.
In fact, it doesn't have to be an either-or choice. After all, no single training system can give your body all the types of conditioning it needs. That's why my week includes a variety of activities, from weight lifting to hiking, running, yoga, and more. My best recommendation is to try everythingexperience it alland see what works best for you. East or West, the important thing is to explore!
If you're a Team Beachbody® Club Member, visit Kathy's Corner for more of Kathy's articles, tips, and expert advice. Not a Team Beachbody® Club Member? Click here to start your membership right away!
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