Is Diet Soda Sinking Your Diet?

Is Diet Soda Sinking Your Diet?

Standing before an array of beverage options, many of us will opt for diet soda as opposed to a higher calorie counterpart.  But is diet soda really the better option?

In a 2008 study, researchers from Purdue University compared the eating habits of laboratory animals, supplementing their diets with sugar or zero-calorie saccharin, the core ingredient of the artificial sweetener “Sweet’N Low.”  The study, published in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience, found that animals whose diets were enhanced by artificial sweeteners actually had difficulty controlling their calorie intake and body weight.

An additional study from researchers at the University of Texas drew similar conclusions: the more diet soda a person drinks, the more weight they are likely to gain through an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, a group of metabolic risks factors such as abdominal obesity and elevated blood pressure that result in an increased risk of coronary artery disease.

The reasoning behind diet soda possibly derailing a diet also may be found in how the human brain recognizes sweetness in foods and beverages, prompting additional feelings of hunger, and how the body breaks down the artificial sweeteners in diet soda.  Aspartame, in particular, has been linked by some researchers to obesity.  Other researchers believe that the mere concept of a lower calorie drink choice may cause people to perceive their caloric intake as lower, prompting them to drink more.

According to AAMC nutritionist Maureen Shackelford, there is no scientific consensus on the use of artificial sweeteners, and that the results of the studies are inconclusive.

“Artificial sweeteners could be more or less ‘faking out’ the satisfaction center in our brain, causing us to eat more later to obtain the calories our brain feels we should have received from the sweet, yet diet soda.” said Shackelford.  “Americans consume too many calories, and substituting diet soda for the regular may give a person false security that since he or she consumed fewer calories, it’s OK to eat a donut later that day.”

Shackelford notes that those attempting to eat healthier should try to avoid sweeteners altogether, as well as minimize sugar intake, conditioning taste buds to lose the desire for the sweet sensation.  Fruits are naturally sweet, and a good, high fiber, and nutrient-rich alternative.

Shackelford recommends skipping the soda altogether and opting for fresh water with a slice of lemon, lime or orange.  A variety of teas could also be used as a substitute.  Cinnamon and other flavor extracts can add natural sweetness to tea.

For more information on AAMC nutritional consultations, call askAAMC at (443) 481-4000.

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