Charles Dickens said it best:  It’s the best of times and the worst of times for those of us who tend to be surprised in September with snug clothing once cooler weather arrives and our baggy summer clothing has to be put away. The best of summer eating is that fruits and vegetables are easier and more affordable to come by, and opportunities to be outdoors and exercise in fun recreation abound, our health foes, as always are many.  The worst of it is that much of the summer fare is laden with mayonnaise (potato salad, pasta salads ) and sugar (baked beans, jello, etc.)   Desserts and snack of ice cream,  sweet,  cold drinks and frozen treats that seem to be so refreshing (at least while we’re consuming them!) are also loaded with sugar, fat and empty calories.   After all, aren’t ice-cold sodas a summer-time staple?

For those of us counting calories, diet-soda  is readily available as a low-cal option. There are also the artificial-fruit flavored, 0-calorie water bottles. It’s not rocket science to know that one 0-calorie drink in the hand is a 250-calorie bowl of ice cream avoided!  But, no matter how many times I review this information, I’m always shocked with the bad news science behind drinking diet soda.  The body’s response to diet drinks is chilling in exactly the wrong way because instead of refreshing us, they actually cause fatigue and depression!  This, of course, is just what we DON’T’ need to help create happy summer memories for and with our dear ones.

Kristen Allot, a naturopathic doctor in Seattle Washington describes how it works in easy to understand terms:

“Let’s first look at what happens when you drink a glass of freshly made lemonade (½ lemon, 2 tsp white sugar and 12 oz. water). The sucrose (white sugar) is converted into glucose and enters the blood stream. The pancreas releases insulin  when the taste buds sense sweetness on the tongue. Insulin’s job is to open the glucose gates on cell membranes so the glucose can enter cells and then be burned as fuel. This is how the body naturally processes sugar.

Now, let’s look at what happens when you drink a diet soda. The taste buds register that you are consuming something really sweet and the pancreas releases insulin expecting glucose to arrive shortly in the blood stream. The insulin starts unlocking the gates to let fuel into cells, but there is no renewed fuel supply because there is no sugar in the soda. The cells absorb the limited supply of glucose in your blood stream left over from your last meal, causing a critical deficit. Typically when the level of glucose in the blood stream gets dangerously low, the body has over ten hormones that mobilize glucose to fuel the brain. However, the diet soda has triggered the release of all that insulin, which turns off the mobilizing hormones and causes the body’s glucose regulation system to fail. Long term exposure to these insulin spikes from artificial sweeteners in diet soda causes the body’s muscle cells to ignore insulin prompting and put up a big “Closed for Business” sign, causing insulin resistance. Once the body’s natural process has broken down like this, the glucose rejected by the muscles is absorbed by adipose tissue (fat cells) and the rest accumulates in the blood stream, causing obesity and insulin resistant type 2 diabetes.

Another problem caused by artificial sweeteners is that when insulin is released to clear calories from the blood stream and there are no calories, the body begins burning muscle mass as fuel to keep glucose feeding the brain. Losing muscle mass through this process increases health risks since muscle mass is what consumes calories and helps prevent diabetes and obesity. Additionally, our brain and body with the low fuel supplies will say, “Feed me, feed me”. Often setting up the likelihood to binge on sweets later in the day or the next day. The calories in the binge will be a lot higher than in the lemonade.

The ingredients of diet soda, particularly caffeine and amino acids, for a few hours will help improve the symptoms of fatigue and depression. However, in the long term the same metabolic processes that cause obesity and diabetes will also cause depression and fatigue.”

So what’s the answer?  Always the same:  water!  “But water is so boring!” is the cry we hear.  Well, not necessarily! And in light of the movement in many U.S. communities for a “Soda Free Summer” (just google it!  You’ll be amazed at the groups who are banding together to make this a healthy, fun option for individuals of all ages!) water is only boring if you THINK SO!  There are many websites with stories of people who have given up diet sodas and once the first week or so is behind them, not only do they no longer desire diet soda, but actually can no longer physically drink it!

I can vouch for this with my own experience more than five years ago.  After a six-month period of not drinking any diet sodas, I purchased a diet soda on a very hot summer day.  The first swallow was salty, fizzy, bitter and not at all enjoyable.  I was surprised, but determined to enjoy it.  After drinking several more swallows, however, I was done.  It was out and out nasty, like a medicine you would not choose to consume unless required.  I poured it down a nearby drain.  The flavor stayed in my mouth until I had a large glass of water.

To this day I am strictly a water girl, and although I personally prefer it plain with not much ice, there are lots of ways to make it a visually pretty, appealing and very refreshing drink.  Think of the beautiful and popular large glass beverage containers, filled with ice and sliced fruits, veggies and herb leaves.  You’ve got the picture.  YUM!

Putting things into your water improves not only the flavor, but your quality of life at the same time. Where soda drinks are acidic to the body, lemon and lime are alkaline forming in the body. By allowing your body to be in an alkaline state more often, you allow your body to absorb vitamins and minerals more effectively while eliminating wastes.  So …

Add fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice or a little fruit juice to your water.

Add slices of the lemon, lime, orange, apples or even cucumbers to your water.

Freeze raspberries, blueberries, mint leaves, etc in ice cubes, then pop them into the drinks.  Kids will love seeing the colors floating and bobbing in the drinks.

Add apple cider vinegar to your water – apple cider vinegar has been highly regarded throughout history. In 400 B.C. the great Hippocrates, father of medicine, used it for its amazing health qualities. Internally, apple cider vinegar is rich in enzymes and potassium, supports a healthy immune system, helps control weight, promotes digestive and pH balance and can help remove toxins and lower toxicity. Dr Steven Gibb says “everyone in the world should be drinking apple cider vinegar on a daily basis.”  Just a bit adds a kick!

Add ginger to your water. Steep a little fresh ground ginger root in boiling water and then add it to your water bottles. You might also grate some fresh ginger and then simply put it into your cold water to cold steep.

For the most flavor,  chop up the fruit or veggies, put them in a pitcher of water, put the pitcher in the fridge for two hours, and you get water infused with delicious light flavor.

Watermelon and Lime “Agua Frescas”

You might want to consider  Agua Frescas!  “Aguas Frescas” are “fresh waters,” often found in Mexican restaurants. Like juice, but much lighter, less sweet, more refreshing. Make them with cantaloupe and strawberries, too. Take whatever leftover watermelon you have lying around. Chop it into big chunks, not worrying about seeds or mushy spots. Fill a blender 3/4 full with the watermelon chunks, and add about 1 Tb.  sugar (or to taste) and 1/2 c. water. Puree. Pour puree through a fine sieve into a pitcher, discarding solids when done.

Peach Agua Fresca:

1 (10 oz.) bag frozen organic peaches, thawed (or fresh if you can!)
4 cups very cold filtered water
1 teaspoon agave nectar or 2 tbsp. raw cane sugar
Juice of one lime

DIRECTIONS   Place ingredients in a blender. Pulse until smooth. Pour through a fine mesh sieve, reserving the liquid and discarding the pulp. Serve over crushed ice garnished with fresh mint.  Serves 4

See?  It’s all good!  Heavenly Father’s plan for us to enjoy what HE has made, rather than man, will always refresh and delight the best, even on the hottest of summer days.

Carolyn Allen has been providing weight loss inspiration since 1999 both online and in community venues in the Washington, D.C. area.  Her book, 60 seconds to Weight Loss Success, is available at her website, Her favorite food is steamed broccoli (lots of it!) with lemon pepper. Learn more about her herbal health tonic and colon cleanse at MyMiracleTea.com