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Diet soda is the health-conscious choice for those watching their weight, right? It has no sugar, and saves on calories, while still satisfying the sugary urge through artificial sweeteners like aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), saccharin (SugarTwin, Sweet’N Low), acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One) or sucralose (Splenda). However, before you pop open that can of diet cola, know that these so-called healthier drinks come with their own set of harmful side-effects.
Have you ever known one single person who actually lost weight by making the switch to diet soda? Probably not. According to an opinion piece published in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, diet soda drinkers have the same health problems as those who drink regular soda.
From adding inches to your waist to increasing the risk of diabetes, diet soda doesn’t score any better in terms of health than regular sugary drinks.
Artificial sweeteners playing nasty tricks
The sweet taste of artificial sweeteners in diet soda tricks the body into believing it is getting a proper meal. This, however, creates confusion. While it is expecting calories and energy, it gets a useless chemical instead.
Susan Swithers, a behavioral neuroscientist and professor of psychological sciences, and author of the opinion piece, said that when you mess up your whole system through regular consumption of artificial sweeteners, your body will have difficulties in processing real sugar, because the fake sugar has tricked it so many times. As a result, the body will not release blood sugar and blood pressure regulating hormones when a heavy diet soda drinker consumes real sugar, which in turn can lead to serious health issues.
While for many people diet sodas are associated with weight loss, the report noted that diet soda drinkers often tend to pack on more weight than those who don’t. CNN diet and fitness expert Dr. Melina Jampolis explained that the sweet taste of fake sugars triggers the release of insulin which lowers blood sugar levels. If there are no carbs consumed, blood sugar levels will continue to drop, causing hunger and cravings for sweet foods, which can result in overeating and weight gain.
Furthermore, the review highlighted the fact that diet soda drinkers who maintained a healthy weight still had a significantly increased risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes – the top three killers in the United States.
Swithers noted that though many people believe diet sodas are the healthier option, in reality, besides being mindful about how much sugar we consume, we should also be mindful about our fake sugar intake.
Diet soda industry goes into defense mode
Immediately after the publication, the American Beverage Association went into defense mode, stressing that the report was nothing more than somebody’s opinion, not a scientific study, and should therefore not be taken seriously.
“Low-calorie sweeteners are some of the most studied and reviewed ingredients in the food supply today,” the association said in a statement. “They are safe and an effective tool in weight loss and weight management, according to decades of scientific research and regulatory agencies around the globe.”
Just because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved these artificial sweeteners doesn’t mean they are safe for regular consumption. As reported by Swithers, all these sweeteners are chemicals. Take Saccharin for example: It was one of the first artificial sweeteners on the market, and it’s made from tar – yes, that dark, thick, flammable liquid distilled from wood or coal and used to build roads.