Man surrounded by Coke cans.Coked out.Photo: Lazurite Yes, I’ve battled a Coke “addiction” more than once. Just when I think I have it beat, it worms its way back into my life. No, this Coke isn’t that white, powdery stuff; it comes in a can, and my drug of choice is Cherry Coke Zero.

Do you ever wonder why soft drinks and processed foods have such power over us? Are we just weak? Or are our bodies simply outmaneuvered by the tactics of slick food companies? An interesting 60 Minutes episode entitled “The Flavorists: Tweaking Tastes and Creating Cravings” sheds some light on the subject. If you haven’t seen it, you should definitely check it out. (You can watch the full episode on the CBS News’ website.)

It’s no surprise that processed foods and beverages are engineered to taste good. But as you listen to Morley Safer interview several employees of Givaudan, the world’s largest flavoring and fragrance manufacturer, you quickly realize that making delicious food is not the only goal of Big Food companies. Here’s the part of their conversation where they talk about the creation of fruit flavorings:

Givaudan [Dawn Streich]: In our fruit flavors we’re talking about, we want a burst in the beginning. And maybe a finish that doesn’t linger too much so that you want more of it.

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Givaudan [Jim Hassel]: And you don’t want a long linger, because you’re not going to eat more of it if it lingers.

Morley Safer: Aha. So I see, it’s going to be a quick fix. And then …

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Givaudan [Hassel]: Have more.

Safer: And then have more. But that suggests something else?

Givaudan [Hassel]: Exactly.

Safer: Which is called addiction?

Givaudan [Hassel]: Exactly.

Safer: You’re tryin’ to create an addictive taste?

Givaudan [Hassel]: That’s a good word.

Givaudan [Streich]: Or something that they want to go back for again and again.

That’s a pretty scary conversation if you ask me. Do the flavorings that Givaudan concoct really make our food addictive? I don’t know. But I am confident that Big Food companies have no qualms with manufacturing processed food and beverages that we go back for again and again — whether through artificial or so-called “natural flavors.”

Beyond its tendency to wear through our will power, what’s so bad about processed food? Well, as I explained in my blog post “All Food is NOT Created Equal,” flavorings are just one of the ingredients in the processed food pantry. Fats, salt, and sugars are all layered on top of cheap, nutrition-poor ingredients to give the appearance and taste of real food. Over time our bodies eat more and get less nutrition, creating a downward spiral that can be disastrous for our health.

So what’s the solution? You guessed it … replace the boxes, cans, and bottles of pre-made food and drinks with real food and water.

What about my addiction? Well, over Thanksgiving I decided to go “cold turkey” — no more Coke Zero. Thanks to plenty of distractions during my vacation, it really wasn’t that hard to quit. But when I returned to work and fell back in my daily routine, those cravings were pretty loud. Thankfully I haven’t caved, but it can be difficult.

Here are some strategies I’ve used:

  1. Keep a bottle of water nearby at all times. If you even feel the tinge of desire to drink a soda, drink some water. Being fully hydrated can help keep a lid on the cravings.
  2. Substitute an occasional flavorful drink during your transition. Drinking juice or sweet tea isn’t a long-term solution to giving up your soda habit since these drinks can also have lots of sugar. But during your “withdrawal,” let yourself indulge a little. Just remember to ease back on these transition drinks after a week or so.
  3. Sparkling water can help if you miss the carbonated refreshment of soda.
  4. Have support. I chose to quit over the holidays because I knew I’d be around family; I knew they’d be supportive of my effort to quit.
  5. Find ways to give your water some zip. If plain water just isn’t enough for you, find some ways to spice it up by using lemons, limes, oranges, or mint.

Are there processed foods are beverages that you just can’t beat? Have you vanquished some processed food demons from your diet? Please share your thoughts and comments below. I know we all have something to learn from each other.

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