Should You Give Up Diet Drinks?

DietSoda2SusanBiconBy Susan Brown
Health & Wellness Writer

Most people choose diet drinks because they contain zero calories.  Some choose diet drinks over regular drinks because they believe it’s a healthier choice.  But is it?  People who drink artificially sweetened beverages to cut down on calories or to help them lose weight may be in for a surprise.  According to a study by researchers at Purdue University, drinking diet soda is associated with weight gain, not loss, and puts you at risk of developing obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, just like regular soda or other sugary drinks. 

Turns out, we love our diet drinks and the amount we’re consuming has risen at an alarming rate over the past ten years.  While adults are drinking 25% more diet soda, children’s consumption has doubled.  And while controversy remains among researchers and medical personnel as to whether diet soda is causing weight problems or whether obese people tend to drink more diet soda in order to cut calories, most agree that there are reasons to be concerned about high consumption of diet drinks. 

There is no physiological need for diet soda, so your body gets no nutritional benefit.  While artificially sweetened drinks may be calorie free, they have a strong statistical association with increased health risks. 

  • According to The American Diabetes Association, consumption of one diet soda daily is associated with a 36% greater relative risk of developing metabolic syndrome and a 67% greater relative risk of type 2 diabetes as compared to non-consumers. 
  • Instead of helping weight loss, diet soda may be sabotaging your metabolism and tricking your brain.  Artificial sweeteners, which are far sweeter than sugar, trigger insulin release in anticipation of digestion.  When there is nothing to digest, insulin spikes keep blood sugar high and contribute to fat storage, which can lead to weight gain and increased belly fat.  When the body doesn’t receive the nutrition it was expecting, food cravings can result in overeating. 
  • Over the course of a ten year study, researchers at the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center found that waistlines of diet soda drinkers increased 70% as compared to non-diet drinkers. 
  • Researchers from the University of Miami and Columbia University found that drinking diet soda daily increased the risk of a vascular event by 43% over a ten year period. 

According to Dr. David Katz, the founding director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, artificial sweeteners stimulate appetite and keep the brain primed for more sugar, which can lead to poor dietary choices.  According to Dr. Katz, removing foods with artificial and hidden sugars from your diet will make you more sensitive to sweet foods and reduce sweetness cravings over time. 

As more studies are needed to determine the potential effects of diet drinks on appetite and hormones, these findings may mean that people who drink diet sodas have less healthy diets overall.  Or it may be that people are more likely to overeat because they believe they are saving calories when they drink diet soda.  While the jury is still out on the negative health effects of diet drinks, to reduce your risks of obesity, metabolic syndrome or diabetes type 2, limit your consumption of diet soda to an occasional treat, as the studies do show an association between daily consumption and higher risks of chronic disease.  As water is essential for bodily processes, you’d likely be better off quenching your thirst with healthier, calorie-free plain or sparkling water or unsweetened tea. 


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