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Diet sodas may not be the healthy alternatives to sodas that they are purported to be…

The news

New studies have suggested that diet sodas are anything but.

Data from this and other prospective studies suggest that the promotion of diet sodas as healthy alternatives may be ill-advised

Says Dr. Helen Hazuda, professor of medicine at University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

They may be free of calories, but not of consequences.

The Studies

For one study, researchers at the center followed 474 diet soda drinkers, 65 to 74 years of age, for almost 10 years. They found that diet soda drinkers’ waists grew 70 percent more than non-drinkers. Specifically, drinking two or more diet sodas a day busted belt sizes five times more than people who avoided the stuff entirely.

More importantly, as waist size grows, so do health risks – including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other chronic conditions.

Just how does diet soda make you fat? Another study may hold the answer. In it, researchers divided mice into two groups, one of which ate food laced with the popular sweetener aspartame. After three months, the mice eating aspartame-chow had higher blood sugar levels than the mice eating normal food. The authors said in a written statement their findings could “contribute to the associations observed between diet soda consumption and the risk of diabetes in humans.”

Artificial sweeteners could have the effect of triggering appetite but unlike regular sugars they don’t deliver something that will squelch the appetite

Said Sharon Fowler, obesity researcher at UT Health Science Center at San Diego and a co-author on both of these studies. She also said sweeteners could inhibit brain cells that make you feel full.

So if sugar-filled soda is no good, and diet soda isn’t either – what should we be drinking?

Says Dr. Hazuda:

I think prudence would dictate drinking water.

My Opinion

Most people think that if diet sodas have less/no calories, that the problems associated with drinking soda are evaporated. There are a few problems with this approach:

First, there is a psychological licensing effect. If a person thinks that they are doing something that is benefiting them, they will be more prone to do something that may be potentially harmful, creating some sort of psychological balance. For instance, many people will work out for an hour or more, and then eat something unhealthy because “they earned it.” The same effect can be seen with diet sodas. People may think that diet sodas are more healthy, and they therefore drink more diet soda than they normally would. This will increase any negative effects beyond what they may expect from an infrequent consumption of cola.

Second, although diet sodas don’t have the sugar content that typically turn “health minded” people away from sodas, there are unforeseen consequences from the use of artificial sweeteners. As the above studies stated, the problem with artificial sweeteners is that they may not inhibit appetite in the same way that sugar can. Even though there are fewer calories in diet sodas, the lack of a feeling of “fullness” after drinking them may cause people to over-eat, which in turn causes weight gain, which in turn causes problems like heart disease and diabetes.

At least personally, I know that my mom feels like she can drink as much diet soda as she wants simply because it says “diet” on the front of the can/bottle. But these studies show that artificial sweeteners may inadvertently lead to the same weight-related health problems of regular soda.

If a caffeine boost is what you are looking for, the more healthy choice would have to be coffee or pills. If you are looking for a beverage that quenches thirst and doesn’t increase your risk of anything, try water.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

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