#351 Soda: The Real Thing or Real Junk?

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I never drink water; that is the stuff that rusts pipes.

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Cola: Real Thing or Real Junk?

By Denis Faye

Sure, soda pop is the biggest calorie source in the American diet. Sure, it may be a sugary-sweet drink that is partially responsible for the planet's obesity epidemic, according to a 2007 Yale University study. But frankly, there's not much real about cola. Heck, most American versions don't even have real sugar in it.

To prove this point, we've decided to take a look at the ingredients in a can of cola. Is there anything real in there? You tell us.

Soda Bottles

Carbonated WaterCarbonated water

Ingredient-wise, this is cola's get-out-of-jail-free card. Carbonated water—water injected with carbon dioxide gas—has received a bad rap over the years, but current studies suggest there's little wrong with it. The idea that the phosphorus (the "fizz") in bubbly water drains calcium from bones was shown to be untrue in a 2001 study by the Creighton University Osteoporosis Research Center in Nebraska. So if you give up the soda and stick to the soda water, you'll be in good shape.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)

For the uninitiated, HFCS is corn syrup that has gone through enzymatic processing to increase its fructose level. It's then mixed with un-enzymatic processed corn syrup to make a combo of fructose and glucose that can be used as a sweetener. Due to the massive amount of corn our country produces, HFCS is cheaper than white cane sugar and, therefore, the sweetener of choice for just about every American junk food you can think of.

There have been all kinds of theories and studies over the years claiming that HFCS is worse for you than other sugars. Conversely, the Corn Refiners Association has gone to great lengths to dispute this information, but it's a losing battle. They have yet to comment on the latest studies, one published in Environmental Health and another from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, both showing that HFCS can contain mercury.

Whomever you believe, this stuff just isn't good for you. One 12-ounce can (and who drinks just a can anymore?) contains 39 grams of simple carbohydrates, all from HFCS. With no fat, no protein, and no fiber, it's 140 calories of blood-sugar-spiking sweetness. It's like eating 9 teaspoons of table sugar. So no matter what you call it, what vegetable it's derived from, or how you process it, it's bad for you.

Caramel color

CaramelAlso known as caramel coloring, this is just sugar heated until it turns brown. However, the heating process to make class IV sulfite ammonia caramel coloring, the kind they put in soft drinks, requires ammonia. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, this doesn't affect the toxicological properties. A joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization expert committee on food additives wasn't quite as sure and suggested a 0 to 200 milligram per kilogram of body weight limit on the stuff. Most colas don't appear to publish the amount of caramel color they use, so we have no idea how much you'll find in a Big Gulp.

Either way, in the U.S., guess what kind of sugar this stuff is made of? Yes, corn syrup (see: High Fructose Corn Syrup [HFCS]).

Phosphoric acid

ChemicalsPhosphoric acid is a chemical that gives colas their "tangy taste." It's much cheaper to use than more natural ingredients. The belief that phosphoric acid lowers bone density is contentious. While it's true that a 2006 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who consume cola daily have lower bone density, that could also be because those soda drinkers were less inclined to drink calcium-rich beverages such as milk. Furthermore, the Creighton University study (see: Carbonated water) suggests that it wasn't the phosphoric acid causing the problem—rather, it was the caffeine.

Regardless, phosphoric acid makes an excellent rust remover for iron and steel. So think about that the next time you have a hankering for a cola.

Natural flavors

Most people believe the word "natural" means that these flavors are the good stuff. Nothing could be further from the truth. Eric Schlosser, in his amazing book Fast Food Nation, sums it up best. Basically, just because a flavor is "natural" doesn't mean it's healthier than an "artificial" flavor. In fact, sometimes the opposite can be true. The example Schlosser brings up is almond flavoring. "When almond flavor is derived from natural sources," he writes, "such as peach and apricot pits, it contains traces of hydrogen cyanide, a deadly poison."

Conversely, artificial almond flavor "derived through a different process (by mixing oil of clove and the banana flavor, amyl acetate) does not contain any cyanide."

Most colas' secret recipes are safely hidden in their natural ingredients. Given that it's one of the best-kept secrets in industrial history, props to you if you can figure out what you're drinking.


Coffee BeansConsidering that some of our supplements contain caffeine, it would be downright hypocritical to trash it here. The simple fact is that in small amounts caffeine is fine. In fact, it's an ergogenic aid, meaning that it can increase the capacity for mental or physical labor. However, if you get too carried away, it can lead to everything from peptic ulcers to sleep disorders to the above-mentioned bone density loss.

So if you're at risk for osteoporosis, you're probably going to want to pass on caffeine. Otherwise, you'll want to drink it in moderation.

How does this bode badly for soda? Simple. Pretty much every other source of caffeine around has some kind of benefit. Supplements have myriad benefits. Coffee and tea contain antioxidants. Even chocolate, in moderation, is said to be beneficial, with its antioxidants, flavonoids, and phenylethylamine—a mild mood enhancer. Why get it drinking soda, a beverage without a single other beneficial quality yet several detrimental ones?

So there you have it. Mix that all together, and you get cola. Heck, because it's so natural and "real," you should be able to make it at home with ingredients sitting in your kitchen pantry. Right? Right?

Who am I kidding? This stuff's junk. Real junk, but junk nonetheless.

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Got something to say? Chat with the writers and other readers this coming Monday, April 13th, at 7:00 PM ET, 4:00 PM PT, in the Beachbody Chatroom!

Denis Faye If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Nutrition 911, Part IX: 10 Reasons to Drink Water

By Steve Edwards

This week, we're going to address why we should drink water. You know, water, "like in the toilet." This line, borrowed from the film Idiocracy, isn't so far from the way many people think about drinking plain water. In the comedy, the world's drinking water is replaced by Brawndo, a Gatorade-like electrolyte drink. We will deconstruct Gatorade at a later date, but today, I want you to understand why this is not an option. You can hydrate yourself with other liquids, but every time you do, you're chipping away at the chances of following a nutritional diet.

Pitcher and Glasses of Water

It's likely that the only reason you think you need to drink water is to stay "hydrated," but you might not truly understand what this means. Let's delve into the meaning behind hydration and just why you need to drink so much plain, "boring" water.

  1. Your body is made up primarily of water. When you're properly hydrated, about two-thirds of your body is water—muscle tissue is even higher, at around 70 percent, while fat is less. Muscle powers your body and fat protects it. Put two and two together, and you may infer that water is vital to the things that make your body do stuff. When you don't drink enough water, your body declines into a state we call dehydration. Get too dehydrated, and your body will not function properly, which isn't too surprising when your body's low on such a vital nutrient. (Your body can be as much as up to 65 percent water!)

  2. AppleYou don't need to drink 65 percent of your weight in water each day. This is because, one, if you lost all the water in your body, you'd be dead, and two, that water makes up most of all the living things on our planet. Since we eat living—or recently alive—things, we get some water from the things we eat. When we cook things, they lose their water. This means that the more raw whole foods you eat, the less water you need to drink. Fruits and veggies lead the group of water-rich foods and contain around 95 percent water. If you eat a lot of plants, you can drink less water. But if you don't . . .

  3. There is more to hydration than just your water levels. Chemicals in your body react with water so that you can function. We lose water in the form of sweat, and sweat is made up of water and body "salts," which are mainly sodium, chloride, and potassium, but they also include magnesium, calcium, and so on. These are called electrolytes and, basically, are the reason that salt is such a vital component in your diet. Salt is a mixture of sodium and chloride, but generally, we use the term "salts" in reference to electrolytes. Too much salt is bad and too little is bad. Both can kill you. This is why, like water, the amount you consume should be directly related to the workload your body is put under. More P90X® or ChaLEAN Extreme® equals more sweat, meaning that you need more water and more salt.

  4. Woman with a Bottle of WaterWhat about water weight? Some people are afraid to drink a lot of water because they're afraid of gaining "water weight." This is the opposite of what you should do. Water weight is a term for your body holding on to excess water because it's not getting enough. The best way to get rid of water weight is to drink more water. It works two ways. If you don't drink enough water or if you eat too much salt in your diet, your body hoards water. This water/salt relationship is referred to as your electrolyte balance.

    Generally, there's an easy way to tell if you need more water or salt; because most people drink too little water and eat far too much salt—especially those who eat in restaurants. So when you aren't exercising, you almost never need more salt. When you are exercising, getting enough salt becomes an issue. Endurance athletes are ever aware of the need to have enough salt to avoid a condition called hyponatremia, a condition that results when you've had too much water and not enough salt, basically just dehydration from a different angle. Those who don't exercise outdoors excessively almost never have to worry about this condition.

  5. So what does water do for you? You'll often hear claims that water helps chemical reactions, regulates your body temperature, and lubricates your joints, eyes, and spinal cord. Sure, it does all of this stuff. In fact, since you're mostly made up of water, a case can be made that it does almost everything. So why split hairs? Your body doesn't work, at all, without being fed a lot of water. You can live days, weeks, and, sometimes, even months without food. But you can't live even a few days without water.

  6. Woman SneezingItchy skin. Dry skin. Constipation. Sneezing. Dry cough, headaches, nosebleeds, and acne. These are common ailments related to drinking too little water. Since water regulates your body's functions, it makes sense that minor glitches in bodily functions may be related to not drinking enough water. And this is just a partial list of common ailments. Many symptoms blamed on allergies are probably due to living in a dehydrated state. When you are properly hydrated, your body can better defend itself.

  7. The above symptoms may be worse in the winter. Water is required just to breathe, and you lose water through your mouth and lungs. During winter, when the air is dry, more water is required. Add forced heat in the air—like from home heating systems and fires—and the situation is exacerbated. This means that you need to drink extra water in the winter when it's cold, even though you are probably less thirsty.

  8. Water and your immune system. During winter, lack of water will dry out the mucous membranes of your lungs, gut, and sinus passages and lessen your resistance to disease. These barriers protect your body against bacteria, viruses, and pollutants when you're fully hydrated and intact. Allowing them to dry out could be the leading cause of the common cold and allergic symptoms, not to mention things like constipation, sinusitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and long-term diseases like hemorrhoids and colon cancer.

  9. Water and fat loss. We haven't yet discussed the importance of fat mobilization for energy and its relation to weight loss and effective exercise because, well, this is Nutrition 911 and that sounds complicated. Anyway, water is the main component of this action. A well-hydrated body has higher levels of oxygen in the bloodstream, translating into an increased ability to burn fat as fuel. The more efficiently you burn fat as fuel, the more effectively you exercise, leading to a better overall body composition.

  10. Hot DayHow much water? It's said you need about 8 glasses of water a day. However, this will vary due to your activity level and environmental conditions. As a general rule, add a couple of glasses during the hot days of summer and the dry, cold nights of winter. During exercise, you may lose a quart an hour or more. While all liquids provide water, sugar, diuretics (caffeine, etc.), and carbonation reduce the hydration effect. Combining all three, as in soda, can reduce the hydration efficiency of the liquid to almost nil.

Now that you're sold on the importance of drinking water, we better take a deeper look at where that water is coming from. Next time, we'll discuss what's in your water.

Related Articles
"Nutrition 911, Part VIII: Pop Goes the Diet - The Worst Food in the World"
"Nutrition 911, Part VII: Sugar vs. Fat: Which Is Worse?"
"Nutrition 911, Part VI: Sweeteners"
"Nutrition 911, Part V: 5 Quick Steps to Mastering Food Labels"
"Nutrition 911, Part IV: What 'Fat Free' and 'Low Carb' Really Mean"
"Nutrition 911, Part III: Deciphering Marketing Jargon"
"Nutrition 911, Part II: What to Eat"
"Nutrition 911"

Got something to say? Chat with the writers and other readers this coming Monday, April 13th, at 7:00 PM ET, 4:00 PM PT, in the Beachbody Chatroom!

Steve EdwardsIf you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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Test Your Water IQ!

By Joe Wilkes

True or False?

  1. WaterTrue: The average human body contains 37 liters of water. The human body is about 65 percent water, explaining why dehydration is so bad. The average person should consume at least two liters of water every day to maintain proper hydration (refer to Steve's article above for more on how much water to consume). The brain is 75 percent water, which is why headaches are often the first symptom when we're a quart low. Blood is 83 percent water and bones are 25 percent water.

  2. False: Five percent of the earth's water is OK to drink. Only one percent of the earth's water is safe to drink. And by safe, we mean it's not saltwater (97 percent of the earth's water) or frozen (two percent of the earth's water). The freshwater supply has become increasingly contaminated since the middle of the 20th century, coinciding with the increased use of chemicals in manufacturing.

  3. False: It takes two gallons of water to produce one chicken egg. It takes an average of 120 gallons of water to produce just one egg. But that's better than a car, which requires almost 40,000 gallons of water for its production.

  4. True: The average individual uses 100 gallons of water every day. And almost two-thirds of this water usage is in the bathroom. We use about two gallons of water to brush our teeth, about five gallons to flush the toilet, and 20 gallons for a 5-minute shower. Americans hold up the high end of the average, using five times more water than Europeans.

  5. WorldFalse: Ten million people in the world are without safe drinking water. Over two BILLION people in the world, a third of the world's population, are without safe drinking water, due to drought and pollution. Every day, it is estimated that 10,000 children under the age of five die due to illnesses related to unsafe-water consumption. There are currently over 70,000 known water pollutants, most associated with chemicals.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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