It's common knowledge that regular sodas are not the best beverage choice out there. They are loaded with empty calories and sugar: nearly 10 teaspoonfuls of sugar per 12-ounce can. But what about diet sodas, they have no calories and no sugar; are they ok to drink? Well, despite being a calorie friendly beverage there is mounting evidence that they are a long way from being healthy. Research has linked diet sodas to everything from stroke and heart disease to being overweight.
A recent study released by the American Diabetes Association showed a link between drinking diet soda and a wider waist size. The researchers followed 474 diet soda drinkers for ten years and found that their belt size expanded 70% more than those who avoided diet soda. Even as little as two diet sodas a day caused the waistline of the diet soda drinkers to grow five times more than the non-diet soda drinkers in the study. And to add insult to injury, their excess belly fat put them at an elevated risk for diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure.
Why are diet sodas not as benign as we'd expect? There are several hypotheses on this front. There's our biology and the over stimulated sweet receptors theory. This concept proposes that basically over time a diet soda drinker's taste buds will change the way their body perceives sweetness and they will begin to desire extremely sweet foods. The more sweet foods they eat, and the more intensity of the sweetness, the more their body craves the sweet. Artificial sweeteners like aspartame and saccharine that are found in diet sodas are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. So over time naturally sweet foods like fruit don't taste as good and other healthy foods such as vegetables lose their appeal, because they're not sweet.
According to this theory, not only do the taste buds get tricked, but so does the digestive system. When your stomach thinks you are ingesting actual foods it prepares itself to absorb nutrients, so you get a surge in hormones, like insulin. But when the nutrients don't arrive, your body tells your brain to go and get them. Your appetite increases, and you get cravings that cause you to overeat. What's worse is that when we get these cravings we tend to seek out high-carbohydrate, high-calorie, nutrient-deficient foods. It's a vicious cycle.
There is new research that is showing a link between diet soda and weight gain is also a behavioral phenomenon wherein people tend to consume more calories than they realize. They think they are "saving" calories by choosing a diet drink and make up for it in other places. For example, when someone orders a Big Mac, fries and a Diet Coke. If they had ordered a regular soda they may have foregone the fries, realizing how many calories they were about to ingest. Or when someone will eat a big dessert because they feel like they deserve it because they saved calories on their dinner drink. The diet soda give them a "pass" to consume more.
In addition to the mounting evidence that the artificial sweeteners found in diet drinks are detrimental to our health in many ways, there are additional factors to consider when determining whether you want diet sodas to be a part of your every day menu.
Tooth Enamel Damage
Diet soda is hard on tooth enamel. The phosphoric and citric acids, which are added to diet sodas to promote carbonation, are very harsh on our teeth and eat away at the enamel. In fact, the acids found in sodas are nearly as corrosive to dental enamel as battery acid. And according to the Ohio Dental Association, "acid can begin to harm tooth enamel in only 20 minutes."
The phosphoric acid in diet soda is also quite damaging to our bones. Our bodies are all about balance and with the presence of phosphoric acid in the soda, our body works to maintain a one-to-one balance between calcium and phosphorus in our system. As a result calcium is released from our bones into our bloodstreams to help balance the phosphoric acid. Eventually the phosphoric acid is excreted, taking with it the released calcium. The more diet soda you drink, the more calcium your bones lose.
Diet sodas may be calorie free but they may not be free from harm. While no definitive research has proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt that diet sodas cause weight gain, there is evidence diet sodas do not promote weight loss. And while there is still controversy about the impact of artificial sweeteners and their long term effects, there is growing evidence that we would be healthier to avoid them when possible. And we can't forget about our teeth and bones: the acids present in diet sodas do adversely affect our teeth and bones.
Giving up diet sodas may be difficult. You don't need to go cold turkey, you can slowly wean them out of your diet. Try to swap a class of cold water or green tea when possible. And while you are still drinking them, be sure to always use a straw: that will help cut down on the tooth enamel erosion problem.
The good news is our bodies are adaptable. While excessive diet soda consumption may have derailed your health temporarily, good health is just one smart choice away.
Author: Sue Ridgeway