By Anuradha Vashisht
Pesticides or no pesticides, carbonated drinks still play havoc with human health. They contain lethal ingredients that take us towards diabetes, insomnia and cancer. We give some truly soft, safe and refreshing options to thefizzes. Pick your choice.
The only positive aspect of the sensational report of Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment on pesticides in soft drinks is that this flourishing industry came under countrywide focus and scrutiny. The media, the government and the public, all took notice of the findings.
However, ironically, the focus was way off the mark. The issue is not whether heavy pesticide traces were found in the soft drinks samples. The culprit here is the underground water, which is contaminated by extensive and mindless use of chemicals and pesticides in farming. So the actual culprit is faulty policies.
But steering clear of the controversy right now, let us come to the real issue. Pesticides or no pesticides, soft drinks continue to play havoc with human health. And it is a hydra-headed monster. Unlike cancer and AIDS, which at least show some signs of their manifestation at some stage, cola-intake strikes silently and invisibly. It would manifest years later, and may culminate in human system failure at multiple levels.
Let us take a candid look at what colas and other fizzes do to the human body. Generally, carbonated drinks take a healthy human body towards diabetes, osteoporosis, increased risk of heart disease, kidney stones, even cancer. The key ingredients in cola drinks wreak havoc on our body organs and speed up the movement towards degenerative diseases.
Studies have shown that aerated drinks hinder the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the body. A huge amount of soda and refined sugar contained in these drinks is known to cause lowering of calcium and phosphorus levels. Calcium is responsible for the strength and hardness of bones and teeth, and it reacts with sodium and potassium to promote normal action of the heart muscle to maintain a steady and rhythmic beat. It also helps in the clotting of blood, besides playing a key role in many other crucial body functions.
Phosphorus helps in maintaining the neutrality of blood and reacts with other nutrients, carbohydrates, proteins and fats to provide heat energy and the necessary material needed for the body’s proper growth and maintenance.
Both calcium and phosphorus are absolutely essential for proper regulation and coordination of body functions. Even if we add heavy supplements of calcium to our diets, it is useless if we are consuming carbonated drinks; they will just not allow the body to absorb these key ingredients. Thus will develop conditions like osteoporosis, rickets, menstrual disorders in women and other ailments.
The cola syndrome
According to over 40 scientific studies in the US—outlined in a 70-page petition filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)—besides the effects on reproduction like miscarriages, caffeine, a key ingredient in soft drinks, contributes to decreased bone density and osteoporosis. No wonder, since it increases the excretion of calcium in urine.
Caffeine can also cause nervousness, anxiety, irritability, insomnia (sleeplessness), behavioural effects, and rapid heart beats. Its consumption by children makes them fidgety and can give then headaches. Worse still, caffeine’s addictiveness keeps people hooked on to soft drinks and other caffeine-containing beverages. Those addicted to them suffer withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of consumption, which impairs their attention span and performance.
Carbonated drinks are the single biggest source of refined sugars. Cola is a highly concentrated sugar solution, which leads to increased water excretion. Furthermore, cola increases diarrheic potassium loss because it encourages renal potassium excretion.
In diet sodas, artificial sweeteners have raised concern. Saccharin in these sodas has been linked to urinary-bladder cancer. Several cancer experts have also questioned the safety of acesulfame-K, which was approved in the US in 1998 for use in soft drinks.
According to a CSPI report, two artificial sweeteners used in aerated drinks—acesulfame-K, used in the new Pepsi One (not marketed in India yet), and saccharin—are worrisome and may promote cancer. Thus we can see that every soft drink consumer is a potential diabetic, though his consumption levels dictate when his time comes.
Several additives used in soft drinks cause occasional allergic reactions. Yellow dye causes asthma and a runny nose. A natural red coloring, cochineal (and its close relative carmine), cause life-threatening reactions. Dyes can cause hyperactivity in sensitive children.
And then, we have the problem of obesity, the bane of the modern lifestyle, sweeping across continents. Studies in the US have already indicated the link of obesity in the country to high intake of sugar through carbonated drinks. Obesity not just increases the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but has also been a cause of severe social and psychological problems in millions of Americans. Indians are now catching up.
Recent studies have focused on the effects of extremely high levels of aluminium in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, indicating a connection between aluminium packaging and Alzheimer’s disease. The oxidized cover of canned pop, especially cola, cannot withstand citric or phosphoric acid, common ingredients in soft drinks. Plastic bottles are equally harmful. The chemicals in plastics leach into the drinks.
Let us also not forget that soft drinks do not have any nutrition value in terms of vitamins and minerals. In fact, carbonated drinks can alter the pH of the stomach, which is bad for digestion, and will thus hamper absorption of nutrients from any other healthy foods that we eat.
It is unimaginable what could happen to the growing children’s organs as they guzzle down more and more of these deadly drinks. Infants and very young children are even more vulnerable. Worse, a majority of the populace all over the world actually consider these drinks safe and fun!
However, common sense says that we do not focus on the yo-yos created by studies that accuse-vindicate-accuse soft drinks in the role they play in undermining human health. Also, do not consider rasna, squashes and packed juices as an easy option, since none of them are nutritious (whatever the manufacturers’ claims) or health promoting.
They too contain synthetic colors, additives and antioxidants, which, in the long run, will produce physical conditions similar to aerated drinks, though they may not be in as lethal forms.
Wisdom lies in looking at something which is not just more refreshing, but also nourishing and health building. India has more than a generous share of the world’s traditional homemade cool and refreshing cold drink recipes.
Since my family and I have ‘never’ indulged the colas industry, we always greet our guests with the respect the deserve; we prefer to serve them something that does them no harm.
Here, I share with you some of the drinks that I make at home. Most of them were always prepared in traditional Indian homes. Quite a few I learnt from my grandmother. Others, I picked on the way, and then improvised. I am sure every one of us knows of them; we have just put them on the backburner, making space for the space-age drinks—the colas and fizzes. This is mainly because we have become slaves of convenience.
We owe it to our children and to ourselves that we get introduced to them once again. A little bit of effort today will save us sleepless nights and many a trip to doctors and hospitals later.
One word of caution here. Avoid using refined sugar for these drinks, since it is very harmful. I have banished sugar from my home forever. I use khaand (palm sugar), jaggery, honey or dates as sweeteners instead. Also, none of the drinks should be had chilled or very cold, since this reduces the efficiency of the digestive enzymes.
Top-of-the-line for me is fresh green coconut water. Highly alkaline and easy to digest, it has all the properties of a mother’s milk and doctors are known to substitute intravenous fluids with this divine drink in emergencies.
A hygienically prepared sugarcane juice and melon drinks come next, but they are to be had without any salts and masala, which hinder easy absorption of natural minerals that these juices are rich in.
In summers, my personal favorites are thandai, sattu and aam panna. Jal jeera, nimbu paani and buttermilk come a close second. Plain or salted lassi (diluted and churned up curd), shikanjavi, aam ras and home-made roohafza are other drinks which can replace the notorious pops.
Thandai is made by grinding almonds, melon seeds, a few whole peppers, khus (optional), small cardamom seeds and khaand. This paste is then blended with milk. This is served slightly cold.
Sattu is a one-time popular drink of north India. Now it is mainly consumed by poor villagers. This is all fibre and has all the nutritive values of a whole-grain cereal. In cities it is available in nature shops and health food vending outlets. A very cooling drink in summers, it is stirred in water along with jaggery or khaand.
Aam panna is one beverage no one can resist. Here, tender, green mangoes are first boiled and the pulp extracted. Black rock salt, roasted jeera, crushed mint leaves and jaggery or khaand are then added to it and churned in a mixer. This makes the panna concentrate, which can be bottled and stored in the refrigerator. The desired amount is added to water and had as a refreshing cold drink.
Aam ras is a healthy and truly fresh answer to squashes. The pulp of ripened mango is crushed in a mixer and diluted with water to the desired consistency. Add a dash of sweetener or a bit of powdered small cardamom for that extra flavour. A similar drink can be prepared with litchi, pomegranates, or guavas (sieve the seeds), minus the cardamom.
Dates, soaked in water for some time, and then crushed in a mixer along with cardamom seeds, makes another sumptuous and nutritious drink. It contains natural sweetener. Add diluted coconut milk or just water to the desired consistency.
One drink, which I vaguely remember, is adding small cardamom, kewra and a dash of rose water to one part milk diluted with two parts water. Granny made us have it after we kids had sucked into a bucketful of mangoes. To add to it a sweetener or not is a personal choice.
Let me not forget the vegetable juices. From purely health viewpoint, the best drink, even better than coconut water, is petha (ash pumpkin) juice. Though its taste might not go well with most people, I have seen others having it with much relish. The trick is to use a fully ripened piece; and it is to be consumed the instant you cut it and crush it.
In winters, nothing beats carrot juice. But for best absorption, it should be had without mixing anything else with it.
An endearing tomato drink can be prepared, with a dash of jaggery and lemon added to its juice. Another cool drink in summers is cucumber juice diluted with water or buttermilk. Drink plain or lightly sprinkle with rock salt and roasted jeera. Try adding freshly crushed mint or coriander leaves. In fact coriander and mint leaves, which are used mainly for garnishing, need to be taken more as primary foods, since they have invaluable nutritive properties. They lend themselves very well to innumerable drinks coming out of the kitchen table of each household.
There is also a need to promote fresh fruit juices. Apple, pineapple, orange, mausami, pomegranate,
Wisdom lies in looking at something, which is not just more refreshing, but also nourishing and health promoting
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