Friday, December 21, 2012

Diet sodas are safe for kids: Challenging conventional wisdom at the Coca-Cola Balanced Living Workshop

Listening and learning
It doesn't take a marketing background to understand that an event called the "Coca-Cola Balanced Living Workshop" might be designed to publicize the company's healthy living efforts and counteract the backlash against super-sized sugary sodas.

But while I do try to limit my and my family's consumption of full-calorie sodas, I'm no purist. I like Coke Zero, Cherry Coke (Zero and the regular stuff) and Honest Tea, and I've been known to let my kids enjoy the occasional Sprite or Sprite Zero when we're out to eat.

I attended the workshop with an open mind, ready to listen to the red, white and black-clad Coke employees share their point of view on high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners and carbonation (apparently in some cultures it is blamed for cellulite) before we got to the good stuff-- one-on-one consultations with a dietitian and personal trainer and a workout session with Megan Fox's trainer, Harley Pasternak. Look for the smartwater product placement in his upcoming workouts on Xbox Kinect and Wii.

On the mats with Harley
Here's what surprised me: There's an abundance of research into the safety of all of the no-calorie sweeteners used by The Coca-Cola Company, but particularly aspartame, which the dietitians who spoke to us claimed was the most researched food ingredient on earth. According to the science, all are completely safe, even for children. The only concern parents should have with regard to artificially sweetened beverages is that they may end up taking the place of milk, which is important for kids' health.

I was also pleased to learn that The Coca-Cola Company has changed the offerings in their vending machines at schools. My elementary school had a Coke machine in the cafeteria (I still remember seeing the teachers grabbing a Tab before heading off to the teachers' lounge for a cigarette), but in 2006, Coke removed all full-calorie beverages from elementary schools. Today grammar school machines sell water, 8 oz juices (with no added sweeteners) and milk. Middle schools offer the same items at slightly larger sizes, and high schools add in no-calorie and low-calorie drinks. At least half of the available beverages in high schools are to be water, no-calorie, and low-calorie selections.
There was also some conversation about high fructose corn syrup and how it is nutritionally equivalent to cane sugar. But my issue with HFCS has less to do with its health implications and more to do with the evils associated with big corn and the risks of monoculture to our environment.

But enough about Coca-Cola. I also learned a few healthy living tips that had nothing to do with carbonated beverages and bottled teas. My dietitian advised me to drink a glass of chocolate milk immediately after my late evening workouts. She said it has the right refueling mix of protein and carbs  so I don't break down my muscles for energy. I had my first glass after roller derby last Thursday night, and it tasted good too.

She had another great suggestion for fitting in a little calorie-burning activity for those days when I am stuck at my desk from 9 to 5: drink a lot of water and walk 2-3 floors up to use the bathroom. It's genius, really!
Dinner at Boka was a treat
So, in addition to derby and climbing and tracking my weekday diet on a calorie-counting app, I'm drinking more water, wearing a pedometer (a freebie in my Coke goodie bag), taking the stairs more often and filling half my plate with veggies and fruits, as recommended by the USDA's sequel to the Food Pyramid, Choose My Plate. I'm hoping that by starting what could be New Year's resolutions early, I'll make them permanent habits.

I was compensated for my participation in Coca-Cola's Balanced Living Workshop, but my thoughts and views are my own.

All Photos are courtesy of The Coca-Cola Company and Bruce Powell Photography.