Addictions, Confessions, Your Health and Beyoncé

Diet Coke with IceAs a prelude to the upcoming release of my book, Confessions of a Middle Aged Hippie, I thought it might be good to reveal one rather embarrassing, public confession first.  A confession that only those who know me well, would already be aware of.  When I was much, much younger, I was addicted. Seriously and completely addicted.  To diet Pepsi. For a lot of years.

Weekly, I would scour the grocery store flyers to see who had the best price.  I would buy case loads at a time, to feed my eight-can-a-day habit.  My ex and I would make sure we hit the stores early, to stock up and not miss the low price sale.  Everywhere I went, I took one with me.

In our apartment, there were trails of opened cans that almost looked like they were part of our decor.  No one, other than my wise mother, ever suggested that maybe, just maybe, drinking so much Diet Pepsi might be contributing to my worsening health issues.  Major gastrointestinal problems that kept me in chronic and often acute debilitating pain, eventually leading to major surgery.  My gut was a mess.  That is putting it mildly.

I feel pretty lucky though.  When I decided to quit, as with most of my significant life decisions, I went for it and just stopped.  Cold turkey.  Days of jitters, shaking hands and mood swings, but overall, I got through it mostly unscathed.  I never went back.

When I recently read that superstar Beyoncé, a role model to millions, especially her legions of young fans, signed a 50 million dollar deal with Pepsi, I was compelled to speak up.  A lifestyle brand!  Seriously?  That’s how she described the soda giant.  Plus, as a public spokesperson for Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, aimed at getting American youth moving with the goal of ending obesity, I’d have to ask “Where do Pepsi products fit in with that, Beyoncé?”  I’m actually curious if Beyoncé drinks Pepsi products, or if she would allow her young daughter to drink them.

With so much current information on the risks of both diet sweeteners, (like aspartame which Diet Pepsi contains) and high fructose corn syrup, present in regular sodas, it’s important to continue the conversation and raise awareness of the dangers of ingesting these proven harmful substances.  Research confirms that high fructose corn syrup is a major contributor to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and possibly even strokes.  Not just in adults, but in children too!

And then there is aspartame. If you read my piece, Obesity, MSG and Rats, you already know that both MSG and aspartame are excitotoxins, substances which over excite neurons to the point of cell damage and eventually cell death. So, in the case of aspartame, if you think it’s a healthy diet sweetener and you are drinking diet sodas to lose weight and get slim, increasingly the research shows that it can actually contribute to weight gain!  And research also shows that artificial sweeteners, aspartame in particular, might even be more dangerous than high fructose corn syrup!

For convincing research on the alarming health risks of both MSG and aspartame, I direct you once again to the work of John Erb, a former researcher at the University of Waterloo in Canada, and his eye-opening book, The Slow Poisoning of America.

Artificial and low calorie sweeteners can also activate your appetite, increase carbohydrate cravings and stimulate fat storage, leading to weight gain.  A glowing example for me, is from a good, but overweight friend of mine, who was heavily hooked on very super-sized diet sodas.  He recently reported that he finally stopped drinking his daily diet soda fix and actually lost 19 pounds in three weeks.  Just from cutting out his daily diet soda habit!  Personal experience always speaks volumes to me.

With Beyoncé’s Pepsi announcement, there are many who have vocally spoken out against her choice to align with them.  In a poignant and pointed letter to her, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, encouraged her to reconsider and at the very least, donate the money to causes doing research on obesity, diabetes and other soda-related diseases.  So far, no response from her.

A piece in Frugivore Magazine expresses the two sides of the debate on Beyoncé’s deal:

“Reactions have been mixed. Fans view the campaign as a momentous accomplishment for the singer, while others chide Beyoncé for supporting a sugary-soda brand which is a health affront to many American consumers. They even accuse the diva of hypocrisy for appearing in Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative to encourage good health among children and later, selling Pepsi cans.”

We live in a world where transparency is imperative.  This is a good thing, making everything immediately visible, encouraging people to speak out and use their voice.  Do celebrities have a moral responsibility to talk their talk and walk their walk?  I believe they do.  Can they get away with immoral choices anymore?  Not too easily.

With so much information available, it seems virtually unbelievable that consumers are not already aware of the potential health risks from consuming both diet sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup found in sodas.  Apparently, lots of people still won’t listen.

I confess I was one of them way back then, and it was challenging for me to admit that maybe my diet Pepsi habit was contributing to my health problems. And now that Taylor Swift has signed on as a spokesperson for diet Coke, the battle of the cola war superstars is in full swing and I can only urge people to educate themselves and continue to put their health first.  And the health of children everywhere. So many young people are highly impressionable and more so than ever, it is all of our responsibilities, whether a celebrity or not, to bring attention to issues that are important to the overall health and well-being of not only us as individuals, but to us as a collective society.

What are your thoughts on artificial sweeteners, soda pop and Beyoncé’s deal with Pepsi?

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photo by: Mr. T in DC