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The Deal with Diet Soda

(As published on TheTownDish.com, December, 2011)

Let's face it, we all feel that we need to cut calories at some point in our lives. And, we look for any avenue we can to make that cut. As you may know, the beverages that we drink each day - juice, sodas, lattes and energy drinks - contain a good amount of sugar. So, why not opt for the "diet" option of these drinks that contain no (or less) calories.

Whether you are a Coke or Pepsi person, you have no doubt heard all of the hype about the risks of drinking diet soda. Does it, in fact make you gain weight? Are artificial sweetners safe? Weighing the risks of drinking these no-calorie beverages can get you a little confused. They tell you to watch your calories, so you opt for a no calorie drink, right? But are the risks associated with drinking this care-free beverage worth it?

Stacey Kuhns, MD, a family medicine physician with Whiteland Medical Associates for Progressive Health, explains that although diet sodas contain no calories, there have been studies that show that drinking diet soda can cause weight gain - which may sound a bit like an oxymoron, right?

"Weight gain caused by diet sodas is speculated to occur through two mechanisms. First, it stimulates the appetite. When a person consumes diet soda it tastes sweet. Therefore, the body starts to make insulin in anticipation of the glucose (sugar) that is coming. However, since there is no true sugar in diet soda, the blood sugar level starts to drop which stimulates the appetite. Hence, we eat more when we drink diet soda."

"The second way diet soda can cause weight gain is through the increased toxic burden it puts on our bodies," adds Kuhns. "There are no 'whole foods' found in diet soda. This means that it is essentially made up of all chemicals that are not 'natural' for us to consume. Your body recognizes artificial sweeteners as a toxin and moves to store it to the safest place in the body which is fat tissue. Your body then attempts to dilute the chemical with water, causing added water weight in the body."

So, should we cut soda out of our diet all together?

"Soda should be drank in moderation and only a couple times per week," warns Kimberly Knipe, registered dietitian at The Chester County Hospital. "A can of regular soda can contain the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar. So, if you drink regular soda, I would prefer you drink diet instead. Artifical sweatners are safe in moderation and contain less calories. However, the ideal beverage for anyone, whether they are on a diet or not, is water."

"Water is alkalizing and anti-inflammatory to the body," explains Kuhns, "unlike soda - diet or regular - which is acidifying and inflammatory to the body. To someone who is an avid soda drinker, water may sound boring. Spice up your water with a sprig of mint or a slice of lemon or lime. For a more subtle flavor, try a slice or two of cucumber or a frozen strawberry."

"Just like any habit, it is best to reduce the consumption of soda slowly," says Knipe. "I suggest a four step program. First, you have to commit to the goal of cutting back on your soda consumption. Then, if you are drinking regular soda, gradually switch to diet soda. Ultimately, begin drinking caffeine-free soda. Caffeine, in fact, is mildly addictive which makes soda such a hard habit to break. Decrease the number of caffeinated drinks you have each day as you work toward kicking the soda habit completely. Finally, take the step to become a 'non-soda drinker' by choosing healthy alternatives as your beverage of choice."

Last Updated: 9/7/2012