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By Stephenie Karony

Wednesday, February 7, 2001

Avoid unhealthy
soft drinks

Question: We all know soft drinks aren't healthy to drink, but just how unhealthy are they?

Answer: They're basically liquid candy. Soft drinks are the single largest source of sugar in the American diet, and 70 percent of soft drinks contain caffeine. An average American person consumes 585 cans of soda every year. That's more than one a day. Amazingly enough, more sodas are consumed than water.

Several medical research groups have concluded that soda manufacturers add caffeine to their products because of its addictive properties, i.e., to make consumers crave their product.

Of course, soft drink manufacturers deny this. They claim they add caffeine to soda to make it taste better. But in clinical trials, only 8 percent of those tested were able to taste the difference between caffeinated and non-caffeinated drinks.

In any case, the caffeine is there, and why it's there doesn't make any difference to our health. What does make a difference is knowing caffeine is mildly addicting and that it's a mood-altering substance.

For an adult to choose to put caffeine into his or her body is one thing, but for a child to do so is quite a different matter. The sugar and caffeine blend found in soda is very unhealthy and it isn't something that anyone, let alone kids, should have on a regular basis.

Think of all the nutrition you and your children are missing when you drink a soda instead of a glass of milk or juice. When you choose a soda you're depriving your body of health-promoting nutrients, and are instead dumping a high-calorie, nutrient-deficient substance into your body, that will help make you fat and rot your teeth.

So should you eliminate all soda from your diet? Not if you like it. Just don't drink it very often.

Q: Are cooked vegetables as healthy as raw ones?

A: That depends on the vegetable. In the case of carrots, cooking them releases disease-fighting carotenoids. Raw carrots also contain these phytochemicals, but cooking carrots helps break down their tough cellular walls, releasing more of the beta-carotene within. When tomatoes are cooked, they supply more of a cancer-fighting phytochemical.

How you cook vegetables also makes a big difference. Microwaving vegetables works best for preserving vitamins and minerals. Be sure to use as little water as possible, just enough to keep the vegetables from burning. Steaming vegetables works well, too, but be careful not to overcook.

Serve steamed vegetables while they're still crisp. Stir frying in a hot skillet or wok is another method of cooking vegetables that preserves their nutrients. Just don't drown them in high-fat cooking oil in the process. Better yet, stir fry in a soup broth -- it contains far fewer calories and is equally as effective. Boiling vegetables is OK, but a lot of the vegetables' nutrients are lost to the water, so be sure to use the cooking water in soups or stews.

We were always taught to avoid canned vegetables because it was thought they were devoid of nutrients. Although small amounts of vitamin C are lost during the canning process, canned vegetables are virtually equivalent nutritionally to fresh and frozen vegetables. The downfall of canned vegetables is their sodium content. If you cook with canned vegetables, throw out the canning water and rinse the vegetables off before using.

I believe everyone should be eating more vegetables, never mind if they're canned, frozen or raw.

Health Events

Stephenie Karony is a certified health
and fitness instructor, a personal trainer and the author of
"Body Shaping with Free Weights." Send questions to her at
P.O. Box 262, Wailuku Hi. Her column appears on Wednesdays.

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