Soda pop – carbonated soft drinks – have become so common, so normal a part of life, as to be of little notice. They are, however, a rather recent invention – and one that is a highly relevant element in itself, and a great symbol, of the problems with modern diets. (As has, since the first draft of this story was written, become rather obvious thanks to all the raised voices caused by New York City’s ban of the “big gulp”…)

A History of Human Drinking

At the beginning, there was water. (Of course, it still is the one substance we need to drink.)

Depending on where you lived, where and how you got it, it may or may not have been clean. It doesn’t look like details are well-known, but let’s just point to how problematic water-borne illnesses still are to human health. (The discovery of how cholera is spread by contaminated water, found as it was by John Snow in 1854, counts as one of the stepping stones of modern medical science.)

Then, there came ways of making water safer to drink, either by having it mixed with alcohol (i.e., producing and drinking light wines and beers) or by boiling it, adding in plant material to make it tastier (or otherwise of peculiar properties – think of tea and coffee).

Finally, not least with pasteurization and modern packaging, fruit juices and fizzy sugary “soft” drinks were invented, the later – as famously known for Coca-Cola – often first produced and marketed as patent medicines.


The homepage of the New England Journal of Medicine, Sept. 21, 2012… all about soda pop, calories, and obesity

For a palate that is already well-developed, these kinds of drinks can be rather too sweet and uncomfortable, but good sometimes for a sugar kick and a bit of caffeine or whatever else they provide (and to point to that example again: Coca Cola, as the name implies, used to include a few ingredients which would now be illegal…).
To the untrained taste, though, the sugar rush alone is probably enough to say that “I want more.”

Consumer culture, with psychologically informed marketing tactics and all the social changes it implied, grew up right alongside soda pop.

For those who got concerned about the high calorie content, no problem, there was the “diet” version of whatever you wanted. Just keep on jugging it down, the companies have made it good for you.

It’s come to the point where children can be seen lugging around 2 liter bottles of a soft drink in school, gulping it all down during their breaks – and then wondering why they are fat, claiming they don’t eat so much. They probably still do, but the sugar in there provided enough calories for the whole day, and all too rapidly available ones at that, all by itself.

The diet versions are probably not much better. Where they don’t provide calories, they still cheat the body: you taste that it’s sweet, there is an expectation of sugar, insulin is secreted to use the sugar – but that isn’t there… This can’t be good, well before concern about any other effects that artificial sweeteners and plastic packaging may conceivably have.

What to do?

Of course, there are steps like New York’s ban on extra-big serving sizes that can be mandated by government, but for the purview of this series on everyday fitness, the focus is rather on the individual and what they – you and I – can do…

It’s most interesting to see, among the rise of craft beer and similar, that there are some soft drinks harkening back to their beginnings.

Fentiman’s of the UK, maker of (a) “Curiosity Cola” as well as tonic waters, lemonades, and others, makes them all “botanically brewed” (and among them, a rather fascinating soft drink made of dandelion and burdock…). Lurisia of Italy makes lemonade of Amalfi lemons, Aranciata (of orange) and tonic waters; Baladin, also of Italy, produces a cola which actually uses cola nuts (from a Slow Food project in Sierra Leone), and other fizzy drinks made of/with distinct botanicals…

Baladin Cola

Cola from Italy, made by Baladin, using cola nuts from Sierra Leone, chinotto,…

The interesting thing about these sorts of soda pop, aside from their artisan-y, craftsy, etc., appeal, is that they are predominantly sold in bottles similar to the original Coke bottle – i.e., 1-2 small servings, and at prices upwards of $2 per those 0.25 to 0.33 liters (or about 8 oz.).Luxury?

Yes, and that’s just the thing.

Too much, especially alongside the rising portion sizes of junk foods, is one of the big – and rising – problems.

For satisfying thirst, staying properly hydrated, it takes water and nothing else. And no, it doesn’t have to come from France or Fiji to be good; in developed countries, the tap will do.

Like coffee, tea – and alcohol – are drinks for particular occasions, for work, social get-togethers, or blowing off steam, soda pop is for a treat – and all of them (especially alcohol and soda pop – both also high in calories, by the way) need to be put into their proper places if they are not to be of ill effect.

Yes, that takes some doing – but it’s the skill and competence in eating we very much need. It helps to live with greater health, and it even helps with the fun and appreciation of those sweet fizzy drinks, when it’s the right time for them.

It is a lesson we very much seem to need for the food we eat, as well. Too much of it is no longer real food that is actually nourishing and tasty, but rather just junk/luxury “food” hardly worthy of the word – and it is on us to put these things into their proper places again, if we want to eat and live better, with both better health and greater pleasure.