You Are What You Drink

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Commentary, Isabella Zizi

Just imagine: a clear blue sky on a nice summer day, warm weather, and you’re in the backyard with your family enjoying grilled chicken, fruit salad and salsa with chips. But… you need a drink to wash it down.

What do you do? You reach for the cooler and dig into the ice to find a fizzy can of soda. Just that crisp pop from pulling the lid back and watching the soda bubbles crackle promises pure satisfaction.

But what if you opted instead for the crisp, purified taste of water?

I’ve had my fair amount of sodas growing up — and now that I’m an adult you can add fruity alcoholic beverages to that — but I could live without all of them, and for a month this past summer, I did. I engaged in a healthy cleansing of my body as an experiment.

I decided to go without any junk food: no candy, cookies, crackers, smoothies, soda or alcohol, and since this was a major detox, I didn’t have juices either. I lost about 12 pounds, my acne cleared up and I had more energy. Of course, water by itself can get boring, but infusing it with chia seeds, mint, cucumbers, lemon or mixed berries remains a better choice than any sugary drinks.

I would have liked my personal health challenge to inspire the people around me, but unfortunately soda remains part of their lives.

It starts with the lifestyle they grow up in. When toddlers cry, we do all we can to quiet them down, and many times it’s with something sweet, like a juice box or cookie. A connection with sweets becomes habit. And the habit becomes an addiction.
At many stores you can buy two cans of soda for the price of one small bottled water. But you end up paying with your health.

A few years ago, my sister had the opportunity to swim 1.8 miles from Alcatraz Island back to the pier as part of an event organized by PATHSTAR, an organization in San Francisco that reaches out to Native Americans to raise awareness about diabetes and other health issues. After her second year of swimming she became a youth advocate here in Richmond. In 2012, she lobbied for the “soda tax” ballot measure that would have put a tax on sugary drinks in local grocery stores. Business owners rallied against the measure, saying it would cost them customers. In the end, it didn’t pass.

But there is more that we can do to make a difference in our health. Educating students in school or in after-school programs – and encouraging them to be active — is a great start for a healthier lifestyle. And when it’s presented in an interactive way by a young teacher or mentor, young people will listen.

The more young people are taught about making healthier choices now, the less likely they are to get diabetes or other health issues when they are older.

And the first step is to replace that soda can with delicious fruit-infused water.

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