outcry about sugary drinks' caloric damage--blaming them, really, for the so-called "obesity epidemic"--got me wondering what people drank before 1980, which is when obesity rates started rising.
I went on a trip down memory lane and realized that as a Baby Boomer kid, my cohort, svelte as we were, operated under a wildly different set of "healthy diet" rules. There was indeed one non-soda liquid that we drank in immense quantities. Not water. Not even lemonade or iced tea. No, what we drank, every day, was--whole milk.
Dietary recommendations for children and teens emphasized that we each needed to consume a quart of milk every day. At 146 calories per cup, mothers were governmentally advised to feed their children 584 calories of bovine secretion every 24 hours. How do I know? I inherited my mother's Parents' Magazine Family Cookbook by Blanche M. Stover, copyright 1953.
Whole milk, by the way, has far more calories than regular Coca Cola, which (according to the company website) provides 88 calories per cup, and thus a "mere" 352 calories per quart. My mom's cookbook quoted the US Department of Agriculture's calculations of "soda, cola type" in 1949 at 105 calories per cup, while "milk, whole" boasted 165. Guess milk was richer, and cola weaker then.
In pre-obesity epidemic days, skim milk was considered far less healthful for children than whole (which, by the way, has 3.25% fat). Nowadays, the USDA is calling 2% milk "not low fat" and "a poor choice." In school, every cafeteria meal came with a pint of milk; it was expected that kids who brown-bagged their lunches would bring "milk money" to purchase it fresh to accompany their sandwiches.
It's true that milk provides nutrients and protein, so it's more valuable than carbonated drinks. But when the cholesterol scare occurred, milk and eggs' disappeared from favor. And once schools phased out milk sales, those cute little juice boxes became the go-to drink for moms packing lunches--convenient with no worries about spoilage or leaks. Those were the days when we thought 100% fruit juice was the healthy option, offering the vitamins of fruit without the "added" sugar.
Now, we're told--at least by the recent HBO series "The Weight of the Nation"--that fruit juices are just as sugary and useless as pop. Even though Mayor Bloomberg isn't restricting big cups of juice the way he's banning servings over 16 ounces of soda, the word's out that every day should be "a day without sunshine." That's a reference to the catchy marketing line of the Florida orange juice producers, singled out for disdain in the HBO series.
Actually, some sources insist kids need the fat in milk, saying it's essential for brain development. Breast milk, after all, is fattier than whole milk--often 5% fat. And it's sweet--some would even call it "sugary." Lucky for New Yorkers it doesn't come in a container larger than 16 oz.
It's unlikely we'll return to the days when children received their lunch trays sporting a full-fat pint with a cheery, "drink your milk!" But how are concerned parents to wean their kids from Snapple, Capri Sun and Dr. Pepper? To what? "Enjoy your skim!" just doesn't have the same ring.
Health educators are missing a great opportunity: they should teach children the distinction between hunger and thirst. Thirst is your body needing hydration--water. Hunger is when you need energy--real food. Kids need to learn the difference, and not blow their chance for real nutrition by getting full on a Frappuccino. Or worse, imbibing the 700-calorie Starbucks drink and then dinner, too, without even considering if they're hungry.
I find amusing the tack taken by soft-drink makers defending their products. Coca-Cola's Katie Bayne, in an interview responding to Mayor Bloomberg's proposed big-cup ban, said, "What our drinks offer is hydration. That's essential to the human body. We offer great taste and benefits whether it's an uplift or carbohydrates or energy. We don't believe in empty calories. We believe in hydration."
People who drink tap water believe in hydration, too.
I don't think that drink-makers or the mayor are "bad guys," by the way--I just think all the "experts" ought to step back and allow people to reclaim sensitivity to their bodies' own signals. Not likely to happen.
The dietitians who touted whole milk to a generation of (slimmer) children sincerely wanted those kids to live a long, disease-free life, and of course that's the goal of Mayor Bloomberg and all the authorities who are floundering to find an obesity preventative and cure. Unfortunately, neither are available yet, since more needs to be known about the real causes of the BMI leap between 1980 and 2000. Until the facts arrive, New York's mayor and the rest of us need to relax a bit, listen to our internal cues, and raise our water glasses in a hopeful toast to our health.