We Americans Sure Know How To Drink

Tour de Fat, 2011 | Photo: channone

You know how soda has been on the receiving end of every piece of scare literature or attack ad that attempts to get Americans to stop gaining so much weight? And how it's always been singularly pointed to -- even more than meat or greasy fast food -- as the biggest reason the country is carrying a record amount of body mass and is generally less healthy? And how cities are actually starting to institute soda-specific bans in order to try to keep consumers from guzzling down 64 ounces of Coke in a single sitting?

There's a reason soda has been focused on: It has no nutritional value and accounts for a way-too-large portion of an American's caloric intake. What should simply be a treat to have now and then (like, say, a nice piece of cheesecake) has instead become a staple that flows into our bodies at every meal. However, there may now be a second beverage that consumer advocates may be targeting for attack in order to keep us from destroying ourselves. And this isn't news that's welcome or easy to hear.

We may have a problem with our friend booze, everyone.

According to this fascinating recent study, calories from alcohol account for nearly 5% of an American's diet. Soda drinks, on the other hand, count for but 6%.

Now, this kind of study is going to immediately get everyone into a tizzy. Shouts to urge our ending of alcohol dependency will be followed by some jerk casually mentioning that maybe Prohibition wasn't that bad of an idea, and on and on we'll go, until the fashionable speakeasy cocktail joints that are currently all the rage will turn into actual speakeasies. And that'll mean prices for cocktails will jump from $12 or $13 to whatever they want to charge.

Instead we need to take a deep breath and realize that, despite the buzzword titles linking to the study, there is quite a big difference between soda and alcohol. While both are listed in the article as containing "few nutrients," that's misleading. You must also weigh alcohol and soda on the scale of what health benefits drinkers receive from them.

On the booze side of the ledger, beer is a good source of bone-enriching silicon, helps aid memory, and keeps your hair looking shiny and smooth and wine protects against artery damage. (These benefits, of course, only happen if you're consuming in moderation.) While the health benefits of soda, meanwhile, consist of ... pretty much nothing. Sometimes getting a little extra caffeine? But that seems like less of a health benefit and more of a side effect.

That said, the report about the study does make a point at the end when it delves into the double-standard of labeling soda and alcohol:

[Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest] lamented that the Obama administration is planning to exempt alcoholic beverages from proposed federal regulations requiring calorie labeling on restaurant menus. It could set up a confusing scenario in which, say, a raspberry iced tea may have a calorie count listed, while an alcohol-laden Long Island Iced Tea - with more than four times as many calories - doesn't.

It certainly doesn't make sense that we have yet to create legislation that forces alcohol companies to label how many calories are in a bottle or drink. Instead, they just have to tell us the proof of the alcohol, which is almost more of an advertisement than anything else. Perhaps this study will be a nudge in the direction of getting more transparency from alcohol manufacturers, which can only be a good thing.

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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