If something’s called “diet,” it must be a good thing while you’re actually on a diet, right?
According to mounting research, it appears diet soda may not be the guilt-free drink many hoped it would be. Studies have found a 200 percent increased risk of obesity in diet soda drinkers, and a study presented at a 2011 meeting of the American Diabetes Association found a positive link between weight gain and diet soda consumption. Even more compelling, in that same ADA study it was also revealed that the waist circumference was 70 percent greater for diet soda drinkers when compared to non-diet soda drinkers.
How can this be?
How could diet soda make people gain weight?
Let’s take a look at a few reasons why diet soda may not be the “get out of jail free” card people once thought it to be:
Reason #1: Diet Soda Stimulates Insulin Release
When a person eats something sweet, there’s a message sent to the brain that says “I’m eating something sweet, so expect calories.” And interestingly enough, this message doesn’t change just because one consumes a zero-calorie, artificially sweetened food. So in the case of diet soda, your brain still gets the message: “I’m eating sweet something, expect calories.” However, when no calories come, your brain gets confused by this “sugar fake-out” but still signals your pancreas to pump out insulin, aka your body’s “fat storage hormone.” This release of insulin then stimulates your body to store more fat, and in some cases, belly fat. So as you can see, the hormonal and metabolic effects of diet soda can end up being completely counterproductive to the reasons why most people drink diet soda in the first place.
Reason #2: Diet Soda Makes You Want More Sugar
Here’s another reason “diet” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be: It can make you crave sweets.
Diet sodas typically contain artificial sweeteners, which are oftentimes sweeter than sugar. For example, sucralose, also known as Splenda, is 600 times sweeter than sucrose (i.e. table sugar), and ultimately what ends up happening with regular consumption of artificial sweeteners is you become desensitized to certain sweet foods and also end up developing an even larger sweet tooth. Once again, this is completely counterproductive if you’re trying to eat healthier and lose weight, because if you are indeed trying to achieve those two goals, the healthier (and smarter) way to go about things would be to cut back on sweeteners altogether (natural or artificial), and “rehab” your taste buds so they become more sugar sensitive, which in turn will make you less likely to crave sweets.
Reason #3: Diet Soda Could Make You Sick- Or Kill You
Even more disturbing, a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that people who drink diet soda every day have a higher risk of experiencing a vascular event (i.e stroke), compared with people who didn’t drink soda. Also, in a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found the diabetes risk of diet soda drinkers to be higher than that of regular soda drinkers.
All of the above has been enough to scare many away from diet soda. I’m also aware of studies that link soda consumption to osteoporosis, so speaking as a fitness expert and exercise enthusiast, diet soda also makes me a bit squeamish. That said, while there are studies cautioning against diet soda’s “holy-grail” food status, it is important to point out that several of these studies have been observational, which by definition do not prove absolute cause-and-effect. Furthermore, observational studies, which are often based on food-recall questionnaires, can be inaccurate because some people do have a hard time remembering every single food they ate that day, or that week− or some people may not be totally truthful about what they did in fact eat. Last but not least, it’s also important to remember that some diet soda studies were conducted on rats, and while these types of animal studies are still useful, they still aren’t a perfect comparison model to humans.
Bottom line: The major issues with diet soda come down to them containing artificial sweeteners and other potentially harmful chemical that manipulate our hormones, our metabolism, and ultimately our health. So here’s my 2 cents based on professional and personal experience: I’m not totally against the use of artificial sweeteners like sucralose− although I would prefer natural sweeteners like stevia if given an option between the two. That understood, I’m not as flexible when it comes to the labeling of diet soda as “healthy.” Overall, the research is compelling enough that I certainly wouldn’t consider just any diet soda a “healthy food choice,” and moreover, I would also advise that you read food labels and research the ingredients of all diet sodas before drinking.
Are you a diet soda drinker? Why or why not? − Doc
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Dr. Phoenyx Austin is a physician, fitness expert, creator of advanced nutritional supplements BeautyElite & BodyElite, and the #1 bestselling author of If You Love It, It Will Grow: A Guide to Healthy, Beautiful Natural Hair and And That’s Why You’re Fat: Health & Fitness Mistakes to Stop Making. Dr. Phoenyx’s passion is fitness and her goal is to help others achieve their best bodies. For more fitness tips and inspiration, connect with the Doc on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.