I used to quip that before I was 40, all I cared about was sex. After age 40, all I cared about was money. But now that I'm entering my 60s, I have to say my interest in money is beginning to fade, and I'm becoming more interested in health.
In pursuit of better health, I've been trying to improve my diet. We all know what to do, of course. Just do what our mothers told us: Eat your vegetables, lay off the candy, drink water instead of soda. But that's easier said than done.
However, I have recently found success in one area. I've been drinking more water. My lovely partner B, who's big on hydration, sets a good example. She drinks it right from the tap. Straight up.
I used to guzzle a couple of soft drinks a day. At some point I switched to diet drinks, thinking that would help me avoid all those empty calories. It didn't seem to make any difference, either in the way I felt or in my weight. I also tried non-carbonated drinks -- Snapple, Gatorade, Arizona iced tea. But they didn't give me the same buzz (I guess I like the caffeine); plus, B gently pointed out that they contain just as much high-fructose corn syrup as soda. (We're talking over 50 grams of sugar -- or about 12 teaspoons -- in a 16-oz. serving.)
I looked at the can of Coke I happened to be drinking. Sure enough, the first two ingredients are carbonated water and high-fructose corn syrup. I thought ginger ale might be better. I found a can in the refrigerator. Nope. Again, carbonated water and high-fructose corn syrup. A bottle of Snapple? Water and high-fructose corn syrup.
"Well," I replied to B defensively, "What's so bad about high-fructose corn syrup? It's made from corn, right? It's a vegetable. Must be good for you."
"Hah. I don't think so," she scoffed. "It's even worse than regular sugar. It's processed somehow. At least sugar is natural." She ticked off the problems with high-fructose corn syrup. It makes you fat. Gives you cavities. May cause diabetes.
"Diabetes?" I mumbled. "I had an uncle who had diabetes."
"Plus, it gives you a sugar high, then you crash and feel worn out and lethargic for a couple of hours."
I never noticed it before, but after I finished my Coke I did begin to feel kind of sluggish.
"What about this new stuff, the vitamin water," I wondered aloud, sidling over to the sofa and lying down. I'd seen the claims for a "nutrient enhanced water beverage" that has "b vitamins + potassium." I wasn't so sure about the potassium, but the vitamins seemed like they'd be good for me. B brought me a bottle from the refrigerator. I looked at the label. It's made from "reverse osmosis water" and "crystalline fructose" as well as cane sugar.
Hmmmm. Seemed like the same stuff. "But what's wrong with Diet Coke?" I asked defensively. There is no high-fructose corn syrup. Instead, the first two ingredients are carbonated water and caramel color, followed by aspartame.
"Aspartame, huh?" said B. "I think they decided it doesn't cause cancer."
So, finally, I started drinking water. I'd noticed that my kids drank a lot of water. They don't think twice about spending $2 for a bottle of Poland Spring or Evian. At first I didn't get it. Why spend $2 when you can draw water out of the tap for free?
Then I realized, they bought bottles of water because the packaging and the process of buying it somehow made it special and more fun to drink. And, honestly, I didn't mind. I figured it was the same $2 they'd spend for a soda-- and they were getting a better beverage.
So finally, with the example of my kids, and the encouragement of B, I switched from soda and iced tea, to bottles of Poland Spring. And I quieted my conscience (I should be saving this money for retirement!) by purchasing Poland Spring for $4.99 a case at the supermarket, instead of $2 a bottle at the convenience store.
I had come a long way. But not far enough for B. She wasn't so worried about the money. But she felt that I was doing more than my part to choke the landfills with plastic bottles while contributing to our dependence on foreign sources of energy. The plastic to make the bottles. The fuel used to ship those bottles to the store. The energy used to keep them cold. I pointed out that Poland Spring has a new campaign to lower its environmental impact. She pointed out that water from the kitchen faucet has no environmental impact at all.
So we've reached a compromise. I still buy my bottles of Poland Spring. No sugar. No high-fructose corn syrup. But after I drink a bottle, I refill it from the tap two or three times before I throw it away and crack open a new one.
I still get to quench my thirst from a fancy bottle. And you know what? I don't get that sugar low anymore ... and I think I've lost a few pounds.