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How to Become Healthier and Save Money on Your Food Budget

Frugal Parenting (featured column)
by Rachel Keller

One day while in the grocery store, I glanced at a display of 12-pack sodas. Name brand sodas were on sale three for $9 instead of the regular $4.99 each. Buying three packs on sale could save you almost $6. While that seems like a great savings, if you were to buy just one pack at the $3 sale price each week you would spend $156 per year, or at the regular price $259.

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What if you bought one can of vending machine soda 5 days a week at $1 a can? (And some cost more than that.) In a year’s time, you would spend $260. The average American consumes two cans a day, at a cost of over $500 yearly at just a dollar a can! If you’re in the habit of purchasing soda from the nearest convenience store, fast food restaurant, or while eating out, you can add a significant amount more money to that yearly total.

At one time our family drank sodas (occasionally) and juices (regularly). About eleven years ago, I decided to eliminate carbonated beverages from my diet. Then a few years ago, I quit buying juices. Occasionally, my children will drink juice or even soda at a party, but we all enjoy water. While it wasn’t always true, I now prefer the taste of water over any other beverage (although I still do like tart lemonade and herbal teas in cooler months).

Not only do we save a bundle by not buying sodas, but we stay healthier, leaner, and stronger. Did you know that one 12-ounce can of soda contains almost 10 teaspoons of sugar? That’s about a quarter cup of sugar! The average American drinks about two cans a day (which is half cup of sugar and 300 extra calories). Soda consumption is now the highest source of sugar in the diet of American children today. In fact, children over the age of 10 consume more soda than water, milk, or juice every day.

If you consume the average two cans of soda or one of the super big cups of soda, those extra 300 calories can result in as much as 30 pounds a year! In addition, all that extra sugar consumption can lead to tooth decay, diabetes, and osteoporosis. (The phosphorus in soda leeches calcium from the bones.)

By the way, diet sodas aren't any better. The University of Texas Health Science Center conducted an eight-year study on the effects of drinking soft drinks and announced its findings in June 2005. Sharon P. Fowler, MPH, who ran the study had some shocking news: "What didn't surprise us was that total soft drink use was linked to overweight and obesity. What was surprising was when we looked at people only drinking diet soft drinks, their risk of obesity was even higher."

In fact, when the researchers took a closer look at their data, they found that nearly all the obesity risk from soft drinks came from diet sodas. "There was a 41 percent increase in risk of being overweight for every can or bottle of diet soft drink a person consumes each day," Fowler says.

Why does the discrepancy exist between diet and regular soda? One theory suggests it has something to do with trying to fool our bodies. We give them the sweet taste of a diet drink, but no calories. Another recent study showed that baby rats when fed artificial sweeteners craved more calories than baby rats fed real sugar.

Fowler says, "If you offer your body something that tastes like a lot of calories, but it isn't there, your body is alerted to the possibility that there is something there and it will search for the calories promised but not delivered."

She goes on to say, "People think they can just fool the body. But maybe the body isn't fooled. If you are not giving your body those calories you promised it, maybe your body will retaliate by wanting more calories. Some soft drink studies also suggest that diet drinks stimulate appetite."

I know that many of you are thinking, "I can’t stand water! It’s so hot outside! What am I supposed to drink?"

Here are some suggestions if you really dislike water:

Be patient. You can develop a taste for water. Eighteen years ago, I worked as an assistant cook at a summer camp. One of the fringe benefits was free access to soda. I consumed a couple cans daily. After returning home, my soda consumption dropped significantly. I experienced headaches and other discomforts for a few days, but soon I was back to normal. When I first eliminated soda from my diet, I had a difficult time foregoing sodas and drinking plain water especially at parties. I soon discovered, however, that the more I drank water, the more delicious it tasted. I’m not kidding either! Now, when given the choice, I always ask for water.

Try to drink only water for a month. I know from experience that once your body becomes accustomed to drinking water, it will be hard not to drink enough water. You really will begin to enjoy water.

Consider the disadvantages/drawbacks of soda. Soda consumption wastes money, contributes to obesity, inhibits your body from absorbing calcium which helps prevent osteoporosis. If you drink regular soda, you consume extra nutritionally empty calories while increasing your risk of diabetes and tooth decay.

Remember the benefits. Water costs less than soda. If you consume the recommended amount of water, you will have healthier teeth and skin and a more radiant complexion. Water can make your skin clearer, smoother, and younger looking by flushing out toxins and impurities. Water also helps your body run optimally, prevents dehydration, cleans out the body, and promotes healing processes.

Drinking water helps you control hunger. If you drink a large glass of ice water 20 minutes before meals, the cold causes your stomach to shrink somewhat which will make you feel full more rapidly.

Keep a water bottle nearby you at all times. Try drinking some water each hour–say at the top of each hour to help you remember.

Use reminders. If your goal is to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water, try putting eight hair ties or rubber bands on your dominant hand to represent each glass of water you will drink. Each time you consume a glass of water, switch one rubber band to your other hand. Your goal is to get eight hair ties on your left hand by the end of the day. Use a timer or a beeper on a digital watch to help you remember to drink your water.

Every time you go by a water fountain, take a sip. Those sips add up!

Keep your water ice cold. It tastes better.

Okay, if you really don’t like cold water, try hot water. My husband likes his water cold, but he also enjoys hot tea and plain hot water sometimes with either a couple drops of honey and/or lemon in it. He says it soothes his throat.

Consider a water filter or water purification system. If you purchase one for just the faucet where you get your drinking water, it costs much less than a whole house filter. We have a water filter on just our kitchen sink and we noticed (as well as some of our guests) the improved water taste.

Make your own flavored water by adding a squeeze of lemon or lime juice for a special taste. You could even add just a little juice to the water. Here’s a Web site with some recipes for flavored water originally published in 1881! I’ve not tried any of them, and some of the methods are outdated, but you might find it interesting to read.

Try drinking your water through a straw. For some it helps.

If you really need that fizzy taste, try a bottle of club soda mixed with a package of unsweetened drink mix and a little sweetener of your choice.

How can you know how much water you should drink? Your goal should be to drink half your body weight daily, but in ounces and not pounds. (If you weigh 150 pounds, you should drink 75 ounces.)

When you first increase your water intake, you may spend a little more time in the bathroom. Your body has been starved for water (maybe even dehydrated). If you consistently drink the recommended amount of water, your body will get used to it, and you won’t spend as much time in the bathroom. When you’re drinking enough water, your urine should be clear or nearly clear.

If you live in a hot climate or exercise regularly and in hot weather, you will need to consume more water than the recommended amount. Consuming too much water, however, can lead to a condition called hyponatremia.

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Copyright © 2006 by Rachel Keller. All rights reserved.

Source: WebMD, "Diet Soda Drinkers Gain Weight," published in CBS News online, June 13, 2005

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