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Filtered water, coconut water, whole fruit and veggie juice, smoothies and homemade nut milks are the only things I ever drink these days.  It took me a number of years to come to this.  I’ve never liked alcohol, or black coffee or tea.  For decades my addiction was liquid sugar- sweet syrup sucked through a straw, or guzzled from a can.  Even well into my twenties my beverages of choice were all processed drinks sporting various colorful labels, most of which are still available and popular on the market.  An avid fan of fizz and pop, neon color and the convenience of bottled flavor, I drank sugar in every form I could find on the shelf and in fast food joints. 

My adult onset allergy to soy, which I discovered in 2010, determined that I could no longer consume products containing “natural flavor” or “artificial flavor”, ingredients included in all of my staple drinks.  To escape my chronic and severe allergy symptoms, I had to go cold turkey and quit everything, and man was I thirsty then.  What to drink?  What to drink?  For the first time in my life, plain filtered water became my constant companion.  It was terrible.  Boring.  Bleak.  I missed the bubbles and the colors and the variety, and I had awful withdrawal headaches for a good week or more.  In the early weaning stage, I desparately purchased a SodaStream from Bed Bath and Beyond, a little fountain jet kit for the home kitchen that allows one to turn tap water into seltzer.  The company sells flavored syrups as a companion to their kit, but these were off limits due to my allergens.  I read a recipe for making syrup at home, and as someone who didn't cook, I went through pure agony to brew a concoction for myself over the stove.  This process was critically important for me though, because that one batch of syrup made me realize just how much sugar it takes to create the sweet taste I had mindlessly loved for all those years.  I dumped so much sugar in that pot of boiling water that even I was shocked as I reread the recipe to ensure accuracy.  In the end, it didn't even taste that good or sweet enough.  I didn't make a second batch, and instead I began to consider the value of avoiding sugar thanks to my allergens, and I carried on with my strict water consumption.  For a long time it wasn't easy though.  Even my dad noticed and teased me that when ordering drinks from a server I would ask for "JUST water", like a true depressive. 

Soon enough, after a full month of just water, I started to literally see and feel the benefits.  Sans caffeine I started to notice I was more relaxed and even keel, and I also realized I got along great without the roller coaster of the sugar rush, crash and burn.  I didn’t have to lug 24 packs of cans from the grocery anymore, I had more fridge space, and a fuller wallet.  My complexion kinda glowed.  A real radiant GLOW for the first time in my life.  I was hydrated properly with good ol’ fashioned water alone and although to some that habit is just plain common sense, for me it was a major choice and ultimately an acquired lifestyle.  

My Old Standbys

Reflecting back on my youth, my usual suspects were much more dangerous than they appeared in the hands of celebrity endorsers and cartoon rabbits on brightly colored labels.  According to a recent report from Harvard's School of Public Health, increased risk for chronic disease, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease all lurk inside each can and bottle of sugary drinks just waiting to go down the hatch.   As a young consumer I was unconsciously supporting the industry and multiplying my risk for diseases I had never even heard of before.  In 2010 a 22-year-long study of 80,000 women found that those who consumed a can a day of sugary drink had a 75% higher risk of gout than women who rarely had such drinks.

This non-carbonated 'fruit juice', a Coke product, was a favorite brand of mine in my youth for the sheer variety of flavors available.  Currently on the shelf you can find Flashing’ Fruit Punch, Blazin’ Blueberry, Boppin’ Strawberry, Grabbin’ Grape, Poppin’ Pink Lemonade, Torrential Tropical Punch to name just a few.  All made with unhealthy high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, juice from concentrate, flavoring, and artificial dyes- (of course no real fruit ya’ll), sippable through an adorable plastic straw and small cardboard box that comfortably fits in the hands of even the smallest child.

On occasion I indulged in what I assumed was chocolate milk by throwing back a plastic bottle of Yoo-hoo.   Despite it’s heavenly milk chocolate flavor, the front of the Yoo-hoo label clearly says “chocolate drink”- a truly amorphous and intriguing beverage much more complex than the stuff bottled at the dairy farm.  A close look at the ingredients reveals a litany of sugars, additives and preservatives: "water, high fructose corn syrup, whey (from milk) and less than 2% of: cocoa (alkali process), nonfat dry milk, natural and artificial flavors, sodium caseinate (from milk), corn syrup solids, calcium phosphate, dipotassium phosphate, palm oil, guar gum, xanthan gum, mono and diglycerides, salt, spice, soy lecithin, niacinamide (vitamin b3), sucralose…."

Nothing pairs better with a square fish sandwich than a cold fountain soda.  My other go to drink as a young person was the ‘soft drink’ (as we called them in the South) in all colors of the rainbow: Sunkist, Mountain Dew, Coke, Dr. Pepper, Big Red, Root Beer, Cream Soda and on and on.  Whether drinking regular or diet soda, the processed ingredients, cane sugar or artificial sweeteners all worked in concert to summon my taste buds time and again, manifesting an all-too common-in-this-country soda addiction which wreaked havoc on my health.  In my teens and early twenties I easily downed 2-4 12 ounces cans of the fizzy stuff per day without any hesitation.  I’m not even gonna tell you the math for the calories and sugar.  It's embarrassing.

Despite my disinterest in hot coffee, the “Frappuchino”, a blissfully icy cold Starbucks trademark topped with whipped cream and syrup had my heart for a few years.   It’s like the a grown-up version of an ICEE- the red or blue colored frozen fruit flavored beverage you could self-serve at K-Mart in the 80’s.  I broke up with Frappuchinos when the mixture of preservatives, caffeine and syrups knocked me off me feet with the belly ache from hell when I dared to drink two Venti size servings (the large size) in one 24 hour period to combat jet lag.  Starbucks now boasts their newest Frappuchino flavors: “S’more" and “Caramel Waffle Cone”, both of which would’ve rushed me to the front of the line for purchase today if it weren’t for my newfound food allergies that forced me to give up Frappuchinos of every flavor as well as all of the above drinks a few years ago.

What I’m Drinking Now

Soon after my cross over from the dark side, after I became accustomed to drinking filtered water, I noticed coconut water became a hot commodity in health circles, and then widely promoted and available in stores everywhere- in bottles, cans and cartons.  A relatively clear liquid with a wonderful sweet nutty taste, coconut water is the water naturally present in the inside of any coconut, not to be confused with coconut milk or coconut oil, two products manufactured by processing the coconut meat.   I found coconut water to be a terrific occasional treat for a different taste, and naturally sweet.  If you shop around you can compare and find some brands that are better than others.  I certainly avoid any coconut water containing any added sugars or flavorings, and opt for the lowest sugar content I can find.  At 8 grams of sugar per 8 fl oz, HarvestBay, a brand out of Providence Rhode Island, has proved the lowest in sugar of all the brands in my local stores, and it's delicious.

Post Work Out Drink

High in potassium and electrolytes, coconut water serves athletes as a natural alternative to Windex colored sports drinks that are laden with chemicals and sucrose from cane sugar.  When I got cleared to exercise postpartum, I went full force back into my hardcore workouts.  I had loads of energy thanks to my whole foods diet, and was careful to hydrate with tons of filtered water before, during and after.  But something was off, because I experienced severe migraines that would hit 1 hour post workout everyday like clockwork.  I drank more and more water before, during and after to the point of drowning myself, I ate bananas for potassium and tried larger and larger recovery meals, and these efforts just made me feel bloated and have to pee a lot on top of still having the migraines.  After a couple of months of this, I finally thought to strategically drink coconut water during and immediately after the workouts, and the results were nothing short of incredible.  After that, I never experienced the post workout migraine again.  I realized that since I was loosing fluids not only through sweat but also while breastfeeding around the clock, the plain water simply wasn’t enough to restore the minerals my body needed.   

You Can Do It Too

If you’re suffering from the nagging side effects of caffeinated and sugary drinks, I urge you to run away and don’t look back.  Drink more water, try coconut water- especially if you like to break a sweat, and enjoy some vegetable juice and fruit smoothies for added energy, variety, and whole fruit natural sweetness.  You’ll feel worse before you feel better, but it’s so worth it- I promise. 

P.S. If you haven’t already, try sipping coconut water straight out of a genuine coconut- it’s a tropical staycation you can enjoy from anywhere- 3 taps on a screw driver or ice pick with a hammer and you’ve drilled through one of the soft ‘eyes’  (the 3 dark spots) of the tough shell to form a perfect sized hole for your straw.  The pic for this post was shot at the river’s edge in New England after tearing the price tag off the supermarket coconut.  

Fresh Coconut Water
(serves 1)

1 whole coconut

tools: hammer, phillips head screwdriver

Any coconut from the store will do- no need to worry about ripeness or size.  Find the cute little face on the coconut- three holes that look like eyes and a round mouth.  Place your screwdriver over one and give three good taps with the hammer until you’ve pierced the soft spot open.  If your spot doesn’t give easily, try one of the other spots- it shouldn’t be at all difficult.  Twist the screwdriver a few times to widen the hole enough to fit a standard size straw through.

Close your eyes, put your feet up, feel the gentle island breeze in your hair, hear the Pacific waves churning in rhythm, and the sunlight on your skin.  

Sip and enjoy.