Yes, I’ve battled a Coke “addiction” a couple of times. Just when I think I have it beat, a couple of years later it worms its way back into my life. No, this Coke isn’t that white, powdery stuff. This Coke comes in a can, and my particular “drug” of choice is Cherry Coke Zero.
Do you ever wonder why soft drinks and processed foods have such power over us? Are we just weak? Or are our bodies simply outmaneuvered by slick Big Food companies? An interesting 60 Minutes episode entitled “The Flavorists: Tweaking Tastes and Creating Cravings” sheds some light on the subject. If you haven’t seen it, you should definitely watch it!
It’s no surprise that processed foods and beverages are designed and engineered to taste good. But as you listen to Morley Safer interview several employees of Givaudan, the world’s largest flavoring and fragrance manufacturer, you quickly realize that’s delicious is not the only goal of Big Food companies. Here’s a brief part of their conversation as they talk about the creation of fruit flavorings:
Givaudan [Dawn Streich]: In our fruit flavors we’re talking about, we want a burst in the beginning. And maybe a finish that doesn’t linger too much so that you want more of it.
Givaudan [Hassel]: And you don’t want a long linger, because you’re not going to eat more of it if it lingers.
60 Minutes [Morley Safer]: Aha. So I see, it’s going to be a quick fix. And then–
Givaudan [Hassel]: Have more.
60 Minutes [Morley Safer]: And then have more. But that suggests something else?
Givaudan [Hassel]: Exactly.
60 Minutes [Morley Safer]: Which is called addiction?
Givaudan [Hassel]: Exactly.
60 Minutes [Morley Safer]: You’re tryin’ to create an addictive taste?
Givaudan [Hassel]: That’s a good word.
Givaudan [Streich]: Or something that they want to go back for again and again.
Pretty scary conversation if you ask me. Do the flavorings that Givaudan concoct make our food addictive? I don’t know. But I am confidant that whether it’s artificial or natural flavors they’re creating, companies like Givaudan are contributing to the obesity epidemic by helping Big Food companies manufacture processed food and beverages that we crave and “go back for again and again.”
Beyond the consequences of eating food you just can’t resist, what’s so bad about processed food? Well, as I explained in my blog post “All Food is NOT Created Equal”, flavorings are just one of the ingredients in the processed food pantry. Fats, salt, and sugars are all layered on top of cheap, nutrition-poor ingredients to give the appearance and taste of real food. Over time our bodies eat more and get less nutrition, creating a downward health spiral that can be disastrous.
So what’s the solution? You guessed it … eat less processed food and beverages. By making simple changes to your diet and replacing the boxes, cans, and bottles of pre-made food and drinks with real food and water, you can make noticeable improvements to your health.
And what about my addiction? Well, over Thanksgiving I decided to go “cold turkey”–no more Coke Zero. Thanks to plenty of distractions during my vacation, it really wasn’t that hard to quit. But when I returned to work and fell back in my daily routine, those cravings were pretty loud. Thankfully I stayed strong and didn’t cave, but it can be difficult.
In case you’re also trying to break a soda habit, here are some tips I suggest:
- Keep a bottle of water nearby at all times. If you even feel the tinge of desire to drink a soda, drink some water. Being fully hydrated can help keep a lid on the cravings.
- Substitute an occasional flavorful drink during your transition. Drinking juice or sweet tea isn’t a long term solution to giving up your soda habit since these drinks have lots of calories. But during your “withdrawal” indulge a little. Just remember to ease back on these transition drinks after a week or so.
- Sparkling water can help if you miss the carbonated refreshment of soda.
- Have support. One of the reasons I chose to quit over the holidays was that I knew I’d be around family. Even though some family members drink diet soda, I knew they’d be supportive of my effort to quit.
- Find ways to give your water some zip. If plain water just isn’t enough for you, find some ways to spice it up by using lemons, limes, oranges, or mint.
Are there processed foods are beverages that you just can’t beat? Or have you vanquished some processed food gremlins from your diet and want to share how you did it. Please share your thoughts and comments below. I know we all have something to learn from each other.
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This post was originally published on November 30, 2011 and reposted on November 30, 2012. As of that reposted date I’m happy to say I’ve been completely soft drink free for over a year now. I can honestly say I don’t even crave it now, but those first couple weeks were a challenge. So if you’re still “addicted,” do something for yourself and kick the habit using the tips I suggested above. And if you have a friend or family member that’s addicted, share this post with them and help them make a simple step towards a healthier life.