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What IS the Skinny on Diet Soda?
The thought of a cold, carbonated beverage with little or no calories has been a dieter’s nirvana ever since Tab and Diet Rite made their respective debuts in the early 1960’s. Today, regular diet soda consumers average 27 ounces, or slightly more than 2 cans per day. Diet soda drinkers believe that consuming a low or no calorie option will be helpful in their battle with the scale. Well….not so fast. Recent research is calling this notion into question and is, in fact, blaming diet soda for contributing to the obesity epidemic.
While much of the diet soda/weight gain research is inconclusive since it has been conducted mostly on rats, there are a few findings that are bolstering the link between diet soda and an expanding waistline.
1.) Diet soda contains artificial sweeteners that are 200 to 13,000 times sweeter than table sugar. The taste buds tell the brain that energy is coming in, but the body doesn't get the calories it's expecting. This, apparently, undermines one’s ability to judge how much they've consumed, and, over time, they begin to overeat, gain weight and crave even more sweet treats.
In fact, a ten-year study conducted at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio found that people who drank diet soda gained more abdominal fat than diet-drink abstainers. The study compared diet soda drinkers to a group of non-diet drinkers (including both regular soda drinkers and people who didn’t drink any soda). While all participants’ waists grew over the course of the ten year study, the diet soda drinkers had a 70 percent greater increase in belly fat. Carrying excessive abdominal fat has been linked with diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
Additionally, other research suggests that sweetness is mildly addictive—the more you eat, the more the body begins to develop a preference for a whole range of other sweet things. When we begin to consume sweeter snacks, breads and desserts, we tend to consume more calories.
2.) The psychological phenomenon of consuming a low or no calorie beverage can’t be ignored. Regular consumers of diet sodas tend to minimize the damaging effects of a high fat meal if a diet soda is ordered with it. People often think that they can eat more if they swap out their regular soda for a diet one. (How many times have you heard someone order a Big Mac, large French fries and a diet soda?) Just because a diet soda is ordered doesn’t mean the meal will lead to weight maintenance or weight loss!
Diet soda may be zero calories but it also scores a zero on the nutrient scale. Artificial sweeteners can be a good short-term option to wean you off of refined sugars but long-term use should be kept to a minimum. Water, seltzer water and green tea are much more healthful options. By eliminating artificial sweeteners, you will rediscover fruits, vegetables and whole grains and ultimately begin to win the battle with the scale.