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The ups and downs of diet sodas
08/20/2013

It’s long been held that drinking a diet soda instead of a regular soda is simply a healthier choice. Many people believe that, because diet sodas have fewer or even zero calories, they are inherently better for you. Plus, with people gradually becoming more aware of the negative impacts added sugars and excess calories can have on their overall health, switching to diet sodas instead of regular sodas will be a step in the right direction. But are these beliefs true? Some studies now are indicating that individuals who consume diet sodas regularly appear to be experiencing the same negative health issues as those who consume regular sodas. In spite of this, diet sodas continue to be extremely popular, creating a business that rakes in billions of dollars for soft drink companies each year.

Registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator Whitney Roberts with the Blount Memorial Weight Management Center says our own weaknesses are part of the problem. “So many Americans want a quick fix,” she said. “People who drink three or four regular sodas per day are consuming between 30 and 40 teaspoons of sugar and between 450 and 600 calories each day. Research has told us that if we can cut our total calories by approximately 500 calories per day, that can result in a one-pound weight loss every week. Therefore, switching to diet sodas appears to be an easy solution to help you lose weight. In fact, you might actually see some initial weight loss from doing so, but the long-term success of keeping weight off and losing more weight will likely be minimal,” Roberts explained. “Recent studies have shown that consuming even one diet soda per day also can increase a person’s risk for developing metabolic syndrome, a group of symptoms which include increased waist circumference and high levels of cholesterol. Sodas, in general, contain high levels of phosphate, which can begin robbing our bones of the calcium they need to maintain their strength and can ultimately increase our risk for developing osteoporosis,” she added.

Roberts says artificial sweeteners are another concern. “Diet sodas replace real sugar and high fructose corn syrup with artificial sweeteners that often taste much sweeter than regular sugar. A few studies have shown that the artificial sweeteners used in place of sugar and high fructose corn syrup can disrupt the body’s natural ability to regulate calorie intake based on the sweetness of foods. This suggests that when people consume artificially sweetened foods, their body may not be able to accurately gauge how many calories they are taking in, thereby leading to weight gain,” she said. “Other studies have suggested that diet sodas could be bad for your kidneys. One study found that kidney function in women began to decline when women drank two or more diet sodas per day. The same could not be said for women who drank the same amount of regular sodas per day, suggesting that the artificial sweeteners could be the cause,” she added.

“Unfortunately, soft drinks are the beverages of choice for many Americans,” Roberts said. “There are, however, lots of healthier alternatives to both regular and diet sodas. Water is always a go-to option, but drinks like skim milk, unsweetened black or green tea, coffee or seltzer waters can be good alternatives, too. For instance, seltzer water with a splash of 100 percent fruit juice can be a refreshing substitute for drinking sodas because you’ll still get the hint of sweetness and the bubbly fizz of the carbonation,” she explained. “The bottom line is that the occasional consumption of a diet soda is okay, but they should be considered a treat, not a regular beverage choice. Our focus needs to shift from sodas as a staple beverage in our diets to an occasional indulgence,” she added.

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