Soda, pop, soda-pop, soft drink, a “coke”: Wherever you’re from and whatever you call them, these terms are universal catch-alls for some of the most heavily consumed beverages in our country. We’ll stick with “soda” for now.
Soda, along with it’s fluid siblings sports drinks and energy drinks, is typically full of sugar which, given the amount we consume, also typically tends to be bad for our waistlines. In order to counter the sugary, high calorie consequences of soda, diet soda was developed. Diet sodas use chemical or naturally based artificial sweeteners instead of sugar. These diet sodas have become wildly popular and consumption has constantly increased. As a nation, we drink 20 percent more diet soda than we did just 15 years ago.
The thought was that these low-calorie and even no-calorie drinks would allow us to lose weight by cutting out hundreds of calories from our diets.
Not so fast.
New research indicates that frequent diet soda consumers may be just as likely to gain weight and develop other health issues over time as regular soda drinkers. A 25 year study conducted at the University of Texas Health Science Center study found that on average, for every diet drink a participant consumed, they were 65 percent more likely to gain weight over a seven to eight year period and were 41 percent more likely to become obese.
In some cases it may just be the “super-size me” mentality that gets people in trouble, figuring it’s okay to eat less than healthy foods, or more food, because they are saving calories on their beverage.
It may also be because long-term intake of the artificial sweeteners used in diet soda may be having a counter-intuitive effect on our bodies. The idea is that these artificial sweeteners confuse our metabolism. Our bodies release specific hormones when we take in sugar in order to process it properly. As our bodies become accustomed to the intake and processing of artificial sweeteners, they become confused as to how to process real sugars when we take them in.
These hormones regulate other body functions too, like our appetites. Other studies suggest that our bodies are not fooled by zero-calorie beverages and stimulate our appetites to consume more since the body did not receive what it thought it was getting.
The effects of these phenomena take shape in the form of weight gain, which can lead to type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease leading to strokes or heart attacks, and have been linked to other metabolic or weight related illnesses. Diet soda and artificial sweeteners aren’t just a weight loss or weight gain issue; it’s an overall health issue.
So if you have a bit of a diet soda habit, it just might be time to consider cutting back a bit. You don’t have to give it up it entirely, but it doesn’t mean going back to regular sugar-filled soda either. As always, moderation is key.
There are other refreshing beverage alternatives. Unsweetened coffee or tea, also in moderation, can be great substitutes. Skim milk is a healthy choice too, as is a tall glass of ice water with a slice of lemon or two.
Photo credit: Mr. T in DC