Belshe has been drinking three to four cans of Diet Coke per day since college, consuming it on a daily basis in order to stay awake.
“I hate coffee,” Belshe said. “I don't like the smell, I don't like the taste, I don't like anything that is coffee flavored at all. So when other people are drinking coffee, first thing I do in the morning is drink a Diet Coke.”
Belshe is not the only one who drinks soda on a daily basis. In fact, soda is one of the most common beverage in the United States. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 63 percent of children consume sugar-sweetened beverages on a given day, contributing to a total of 143 calories consumed only from those drinks. On the other hand, 49 percent of adults drink sugar-sweetened beverages on a given day.
Over the course of 20 years, the Pew Research Center found a 54 percent increase in the number of Americans who attempt to “pay attention to a healthy diet.”
Registered dietitian Madeleine Holloway, who works for Professional Food Coaching LLC, says that there is no nutritional value in sodas. According to Holloway, the artificial sweeteners and simple sugars in the sodas can dull one’s perception of sweetness and negatively affect the microbiome, which are microorganisms in our bodies.
“Sodas are what I would call empty calories,” Holloway said. “They're high sugar, and they're low in other nutrients like protein, vitamins and minerals. They pack a lot of sugar, but they don't pack a lot of other nutrition aside from sugar. It's glorified sugar water.”
Although sodas are known to be low on nutrients, Pew Research Center also revealed the large consumption of carbonated, sugary drinks, mainly sodas, are disrupting many people’s habit of eating healthy food. Due to this, 54 percent of Americans are reportedly eating less healthy.
People like Shinta and Belshe consume soda to relieve their stress. Yet there are others, such as AP Economics teacher Pete Pelkey, who regard the beverage as a calming agent.
For Pelkey, drinking soda allows him to relax and calm down. As a former paramedic, Pelkey reveals that his work required him to be alert on a 24-hour basis and at times, he would have to participate in emergency medical situations. The emotional impact of his job caused him to turn towards Pepsi to regain serenity and to stay aware .
Pelkey has also worked as a vending machine technician for Pepsi, and he would be assigned to install machines at various sites from Gilroy to Union City. Over time, he was able to climb his way up the ranks, even becoming the manager of his previous boss. However, not long after securing his position, he was falsely accused of stealing Pepsi machine keys, which led to demotions and finally his departure from the company. While his split with Pepsi ended on a sour note, Pelkey still believes his time at the soda company was a great experience and claims that he will always be a loyal Pepsi fan.
Nowadays, Pelkey will switch between coffee and soda throughout the day. He prefers to start off his morning with coffee, then have a cool, fizzy soda in the afternoon or evening.
“Soda's my go-to if I don't have coffee,” Pelkey said. “I like coffee in the morning because it has more caffeine and it gives me a wake up. So does my afternoon-evening drink. If I ever go out to eat, I always get a soda because your other choices are milk or alcohol and those are unacceptable to me.”
Although he understands that drinking multiple cans of soda a day is not healthy, he feels that his addictive relationship with soda is only a minor issue.
“I've [tried] cheaper sodas, I've [tried] other things,” Pelkey said. “I tried to cut caffeine out of my life, and there's just no way. You can't go out to eat without getting water, milk or alcohol… I tried to quit one point in time, and I was like, 'What the hell am I doing?' It's not like it's killing me.”
Although Holloway expresses concern with those who are dangerously addicted to caffeine in sodas, she hopes to do whatever possible to assist those who want to break away from the unhealthy habit. However, Belshe prefers to ignore any concerned people, whether it’s family or students. In fact, Belshe’s family demonstrate support for her consumption of Diet Coke, treating the drink as Belshe’s main source of caffeine provider.
“First thing [my family] does when we're on vacation, [we’d] do the grocery shopping and automatically on the list used to be Coke Zero, now it's Diet Coke,” Belshe said. “It's just like they get coffee, they always make sure that the first thing when we're on vacation, let's go buy some coffee beans, they also know to go and buy some Diet Coke.”
On the other hand, American academic Marion Nestle, who is the author of Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning) and an NYU professor, discusses the dangers of being addicted to sodas. Nestle explains her reason to believe that any sort of sodas involving artificial sweeteners are unhealthy.
“The sugars are rapidly absorbed, [which] raise blood sugar levels and stimulate insulin secretion,” Nestle said. “Metabolism does not handle a large influx of sugars very well.”
Nestle believes that soda is so addictive due to the acidity and flavors of the soda, which are able to effectively mask the high amounts of sugar present in the drink. These flavors prompt soda drinkers to continue sipping throughout the day.
In terms of her classroom conditions, Belshe reveals that her act of drinking Diet Coke has already morphed into a tradition. At the beginning of the school year, Belshe ensures that every student in her class understands that drinking soda is her main caffeine intake and she would prefer to block out those who are studying physiology.
“In Physiology, part of it is the dangers of caffeine and diet soda,” Belshe said. “And I just tell [the students who are taking Physiology that] I don't want to hear it, I'm fine.”
Contrary to Belshe, Shinta, who used to be a constant soda drinker, reveals that he attempts to replace soda with other types of drinks that Holloway suggested. For instance, Shinta tries to reduce his daily intake of sweetened sodas by drinking sparkling water or iced tea instead. Shinta’s goal is to develop the habit of replacing soda with other beverages that are unsweetened but still flavorful.
However, Shinta developed an addiction to Coca-Cola despite being well aware of the detrimental effects of an addiction in relatives who smoke and drink. Furthermore, type 2 diabetes is also an ever-present disease in his family, which Shinta knows he is at a higher risk of developing because of his soda addiction.