Something as innocuous as Coca Cola, an iconic American beverage, one of the most consumed products in the world, made a woman die.
Released in a New Zealand coroner’s report, a woman who suffered from diabetes, died of irregular heartbeat, all from drinking more than 2.6 gallons of Coca Cola in a day.
According to the report, it was determined that barring from drinking excessive amount of Coca Cola, this women would have unlikely died under such conditions. This report also indicates “the [woman’s] family did not consider that Coke was harmful due to the fact of it having no warning signs.”
Though soft drinks have already been popularly known as “junk food” in public’s eyes, the degree of this understanding varies from person to person. However, this case of Coke killing a person due to lack of understanding of effects signifies two main issues: first, is soft drink addiction that dangerous that it deserves warning label? And second, is junk food any better or worse than other addictive stuff like tobacco, alcohol or drugs?
Not only majority of the processed food we eat today contain artificial preservatives, caffeine and additives…they are also very addictive.
More recent science research studies have shown that not only do those ingredients contain harmful effects to human body, but also can be highly addictive—enough to the effect that the human body’s ability to cope with their formulations from the body’s response and control on overeating is greatly compromised.
Also, those commonly consumed sweetened beverages, caffeinated and processed foods, have significant physical and mental health effects contributing to major modern disease concerns such as diabetes, cancer, heart diseases and depression.
Some ingredients have been proven to be veritably harmful, while other needs further studies to confirm. Regardless, the amount of proof and precedent cases for conclusion for or against “bad for you” or “junk” food, conventional wisdom of “moderation is key” comes to mind when we indulge in them in less harmful ways—or in proper proportion of overall health dietary needs.
While Coke is generally recognized as junk food, other drinks commonly perceived as being associated with a healthy lifestyle can be devastating as well.
Now take a look at Gatorade, a popular sports drink that is often endorsed by famous athletic figures.
As much as the owners of the Gatorade brand (PepsiCo) would like to convince consumers that it is the ultimate hydration drink, some argue that electrolyte drinks for babies (e.g. Pedialyte) do just as good, if not a better job at hydrating.
In fact, more studies found that coconut water drinks (without added sugar) are a much better, healthier alternative for hydration, than any artificially-made sport drinks, for most who are not elite athletes or engage in strenuous exercise for a long time.
Meanwhile, Gatorade (and other similar sweetened sports drinks that also massively flood the consumer market) is linked to teenage obesity. Looking at its nutrition content reveals that its main ingredient is sugar—but there is a far more insidious detail buried beneath an avalanche of artificial ingredients and sweeteners.
The fact that Gatorade contains an ingredient called Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) has gone unnoticed until recently: a teenage girl noticed it on the label of her Gatorade drink. Her investigation on the potential health risk associated with BVO prompted a petition asking PepsiCo to remove it from the popular sports drink formula.
Though it was once generally approved as “safe”, it was later withdrawn by the FDA, as now the code of Federal Regulations currently impose restrictions on the dosage of BVO as food addictives in the U.S.
Since there is limited evidence and studies that BVO is indeed harmful to human body over the years and because of its very small dosage in the sports drink formula, the effects of excessive consumption of such addictive has not been clearly defined.
But the question remains, is BVO safe?
In recent history, there have been only few studies on BVO harmful effects in human body. There are two case studies of bromine toxicity in humans: one patient suffered severe bromine intoxication from drinking two to four liters of orange soda every day, developed headaches, fatigue, ataxia and memory loss; the other patient was diagnosed with bromoderma, a rare skin hypersensitivity to bromine exposure.
However, these patients recovered after quitting the Brominated soft drink. Despite small amount of studies, the health safety issue of popular sport drinks and cola are commonly known for a long time, and for more than just one ingredient or reason alone.
One person did something about it by starting a petition to remove the questionable ingredient in the case of BVO in sports drinks, yet another person died of drinking too much Coke—and assumed to be unaware of the effects of drinking excessive Coke.
These two events could easily have reverse endings if the former subject paid attention to what she was drinking and the latter subject was not addicted.
Both events begets an interesting question: Is junk food addiction that dangerous that deserves warning label?
Today, a major lack of food education and understanding in general population still exists—but we are ultimately responsible for what we put in our mouth.
That means we’re also responsible for educating ourselves and understanding the food ingredients we ingest. One way to circumvent any such incidences as above is to be mindful of what we eat.
For example, reading the nutrition facts and ingredient labels of food before we ingest them, to help better understand what we’re actually eating.
However, as much as consumers can proactively look for such information sources of nutrition facts and labels, as of today, there is a lack of accuracy of nutrition labeling on food products being enforced.
As we take the initiatives of choosing to learn and educate ourselves about the food we eat and buy to the best extent possible, we can promote changes in the food industries and the authoritative regulating bodies such as FDA to eventually address various food labeling issues and establishing laws.
In fact, isn’t simply due to lack of understanding about the human body’s control of and response to addictive food, accurate food ingredient labels and enforced laws that we, as consumers, should be even more mindful of what we’re buying off the grocery shelves and putting into our mouth?
It’s not a surprise that giant snack food and soft drink industries vie for consumers’ physiological addiction to junk food. But what can we do truly safeguard ourselves while nourish our body sometimes confronted by questionable choices, despite how much and what type of ingredient information was presented or otherwise in the food we intake into our body?
If we’re not careful, addiction to those type of food becomes more than just harmful to our bodies, but also impedes our mental ability to stay sober or differentiate the effects of those foods on our well-being. In fact, junk food like sodas and chips aren’t the only faces of addictive food—which come under a variety of different derivations.
Is junk food any better or worse than other food containing partially hydrogenated oil, excess salt, or addictive stuff like tabacco, alcohol or even certain drugs?
Some days, all we want is just some justifiable or occasional indulgence, whether it’s chips, soda, or whatever food craving to be inserted here. Is eating such “junk food” really all that bad?
If we’re not mindful, absolutely.
Looking at the above ingredients, good or bad, junk food or not, they are ubiquitous in our everyday lives. “Too much of a good thing is just not good,” as conventional wisdom says.
Besides educating ourselves with reading the labels or news, a good intuitive guide to making food choices is finding a balance or “moderation is key.”
So what is moderation?
Moderation comes with awareness—which is practicing mindful observation. It’s understanding the choices we make behind the food items we put into our mouth. It tells what types of person or eater we are (Do I eat like a vegetarian, omnivore, vegan or locavore etc?) and how do we eat (Am I always eating on-the-go, in the car or while going somewhere? Or am I sitting down at the dining table without distractions?).
Think of the events or memories that largely shaped our attitudes toward food (Does my family observe any unique dining traditions or follow customs?), the emotions that trigger our food choices or draw us to particularly food (What certain types of food makes me feel good or bad? And why?).
It’s also the mannerism in which we eat and how we eat (Do I think about or look at my food when I eat? Or rather, what do I actually think about while I am eating?)
Whether the answer is yes, no or some thing in between, all of these questions are helpful in connecting us—our body and mind—to our food choices in the most honest and unadulterated way.
Because mindfulness practice shapes who we are in relation to the world we live in as well as the food choices we make—which says a lot about the effects those choices make on ourselves and our bodies.
As much as we continue to navigate amidst food ingredient warnings, news development on new food products and follow “moderation is key” mantra, the actual harmful ingredients are everywhere that if we’re not mindful, our eating habits and behaviors can contribute too much to a few harmful ingredients.
We can educate ourselves, have moderation, read the ingredient lists, stand up for our beliefs, but most of all, pay attention.
We pay attention by being mindful about what we put in our body as much as how we go about doing it; because otherwise ,any food in excess becomes junk in the body.
Can junk food kill you?
Yes, if you’re not paying attention.
Josie Huang is a passionate yoga practitioner and wandering bikramite; a curious home chef and experimental baker who thinks of her kitchen like a fun science lab; a fledgling who is carving her career path combining her passions in health, yoga, food and nutrition. When she is not practicing yoga, cooking or studying, you can find her reading a good book, talking about health, yoga, food and nutrition to anyone who would listen to her or just want to try her cooking. You can find her via her website, or on Facebook.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise
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