Can We Drink Soda Responsibly?

Few countries guzzle soda the way we do. Maybe the problem is us

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The soda controversy continues to bubble up, with the American Beverage Association legally contesting New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on sales of super-sized high-sugar drinks. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola launched a recent two-minute commercial portraying itself as part of the solution to America’s obesity problem. Food writers, doctors and bloggers rolled their eyes. “Oh, please,” wrote celebrated nutritionist and author Marion Nestle.

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There really isn’t anything good to say about drinking soda. A 42-ounce super-size drink with 477 calories and 123 grams of sugar, or about 30 teaspoons, is a short cut to heart disease, obesity and diabetes. One in three Americans today is obese, compared to one in five in 1990. There’s no single cause for this increase, but one of them is almost certainly our penchant for quenching our thirst with SSBs (sugar-sweetened beverages.)

Other nations drink soda more responsibly. Japan drinks 34 liters per capita, compared to 165 liters per capita in the United States, according to market research firm Euromonitor. Examples of moderation abound: Russia (30 liters per capita), South Korea (27 liters per capita) and Italy (49 liters per capita). In the United States, soda is our most consumed beverage; we drink almost twice as much as we do bottled water.

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Soda overseas isn’t necessarily more healthy. It’s in the way that they drink it. I recently discovered the Italian soda called chinotto (San Pellegrino and Lurisa brands are available in the U.S.) As with most things food and drink, the Italians do soda better. Their bittersweet cola, made from the citrus chinotto fruit and other herbal flavors, is the Italian version of Coke. It has 23 grams of sugar in a 6.75 fluid-ounce bottle, a standard serving size. Italians drink it as an aperitif or a mid-afternoon treat in limited quantities, which is how Americans used to consume it at soda fountains. They don’t gulp it like water at every meal.

The problem is not soda, the problem is us. Yes, the industry targeted children by placing vending machines in schools. Yes, they spent millions lobbying to protect sales of their products. But, with all the ample evidence, we’re the ones who are buying it.

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