Diet Soda = Weight Gain?

It has been two months since I have given up Diet Dr Pepper (along with all artificial sweeteners) and surprisingly I am still alive! I also can say I truly do not miss it one bit…

Diet soda (or pop depending on where you live!) has long been used as an alternative to sugary beverages to reduce the amount of liquid calories consumed. Americans currently consume 22.2 tsp of added sugar each day. This is 92.4 grams of sugar, which is equal to 370 calories that are void of any nutritional benefit whatsoever. I call these “empty calories”. Not surprisingly, a majority of those calories in our diet are coming from soda and sugar sweetened beverages.

While I do think substituting drinks high in sugar with sugar-free alternatives is a great way to stick within your daily calorie budget, I do not think diet soda is the way go. I always say water should be the first choice! Try adding some flavor with lemon, lime, orange slices, cucumber, or berries to help you gulp down the recommended amount of daily fluids sans the calories. There are also other options such as unsweetened tea and flavored beverages made with the new Stevia products (try Crystal Light Pure Fit).

So why is diet coke such a bad choice if there are no calories? First of all, you do not need soda. It contains ingredients such as phosphoric acid that leaches calcium from your bones. It is void of any type of nutritious ingredient and too much caffeine (over 240mg/day) may have unwelcome side effects.

Americans are drinking quite a bit of diet soda, not just an occasional glass. Regular consumers average about 27 ounces, or slightly more than 2 cans, daily, according to research, in addition to more artificial sweeteners in cookies, yogurt and other products. Yet obesity rates continue to climb . Substituting a soda with artificial sweeteners for a sugary beverage can help lower calorie intake, but there’s no evidence it helps you keep off the pounds in the long-term, according to a recent review of hundreds of studies on non-calorie sweeteners, appetite and food intake published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In fact, two additional recent studies found that being a diet soda junkie could actually lead to a greater risk of weight gain . They also suggest that those consuming one diet soda per day were more likely to develop a high waist circumference (apple-shaped, android fat), a condition linked with diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

A direct link has not been concluded, but there are several theories on how it may affect our body’s metabolism. First, an artificial sweetener habit may overstimulate our taste receptors for sweetness making us crave sweeter foods and therefore, eat more sweet, calorie dense foods overall and fewer healthful, wholesome foods. Secondly, artificial sweeteners may undermine the brain’s ability to track calories and determine when to stop eating. The byproduct is an increase in appetite and hunger.

There still needs to be more research to provide a final recommendation and of course, it is possible that if the subjects in the studies didn’t drink diet soda, they may have gained even more weight, especially if instead they turned to sugary beverages or consumed food instead of the diet soda.

The American Heart Association recently released new recommendations for the maximum amount of added sugar one should consume per day. For women it is 100 calories (6 tsp) and for men it is 150 calories (9 tsp). One sugary soda has about 40g of sugar which is 9.5 tsp of added sugar.

Overall, I don’t think anyone “needs” a diet soda or any soda for that matter. Those who have given it up often tell me they couldn’t imagine going back to drinking as many cans as they once did. Again, it is telling yourself that you can do anything you set your mind to and if it is for the overall benefit of your health, then it is definitely worth the short amount of time you feel you are missing out.

Krista L. Haynes, R.D.