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  • Is Your Diet Soda Making You Fat?

Is Your Diet Soda Making You Fat?

by Susan Burke March - November 04, 2013 - with 0 Comments


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Is Your Diet Soda Making You Fat?

Drinking soda is one way of adding hundreds of empty calories to your diet daily without offering any significant nutrition. But the answer to your weight issues may not be as simple as switching to sugar-free diet sodas.

Sip on this…

Today almost two-thirds of adults and a third of kids are overweight or obese, so it would seem the last thing anyone would want to do is drink more sugar.  And that goes for all sugar-sweetened beverages, waters and so-called energy drinks.

Not only are sugar drinkers expanding their waistline, but they’re shrinking their pocketbooks, too. And, in the process, they’re sacrificing nutrition by displacing nutrients from the goodness that could be consumed from milk and juice.

So, how much sugar is in regular soda?

Visualize a single can of regular soda (12 oz).  Now, grab a sugar bowl and spoon out 9 teaspoons of the sweet stuffand dump it intoa glass of club soda. Add food coloring (or not—your preference), and stir. That’s basically what you get from a can of soda.

Now, visualize a 16 oz. can of Rockstar Energy Drink.  This brew contains 62 grams of added sugar.  Divide 62 by 4, and that’s 15.5 teaspoons of sugar—or about a third of a cup—which equates to 240 calories.

Sickeningly sweet, isn’t it?

Health experts recommend getting no more than about 6-9 teaspoons, or 100-150 calories, from added sugars daily, but the average American consumes more than 22 teaspoons, or about 355 calories.  We’re having a huge problem with obesity in our society, and sweetened beverages contribute to the problem. 

So, why not drink diet soda if it contains no calories?  How could diet soda make you fat?

It turns out, it probably won’t.  In an interview with WebMD, obesity researcher Barry Popkin, PhD, head of the division of nutrition epidemiology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, noted that the Internet is an unreliable source of credible, scientific information – unless you research published, peer-reviewed studies.

Popkin noted that recent news stories and blog postings referenced the same few studies concerning diet soda and fat. The features had to do with research in rats conducted by two investigators at Purdue University and two studies that followed soda drinkers over time.

Popkin is famous for research that links sugar-sweetened carbonated drinks to obesity and leads the battle to ban them from schools. He is not a fan of soda, however, he and co-author Richard D. Mattes, PhD, MPH, RD, nutrition professor at Purdue University (and not involved in the rat studies), reviewed the research examining the impact of artificial sweeteners on weight and found little support or proof that no-calorie sweeteners stimulates appetite or contributes to obesity in some other way.

They say more research is needed to know for sure.

Sugar substitutes are loosely considered any sweetener that you use instead of regular table sugar (sucrose).  The MayoClinic.com lists the FDA-approved sweeteners found in products ranging from sodas to candy. Although artificial sweeteners have been the subject of intense scrutiny for decades, the National Cancer Institute and other health agencies have found no sound scientific evidence that any of the artificial sweeteners approved for use in the U.S. cause cancer or other serious health problems.

The American Diabetes Association says foods and drinks that use artificial sweeteners are another option that may help curb your cravings for something sweet.  I think using artificial sweeteners in moderation as the ADA describes is a smart strategy for weight management.  Sometimes you want a treat, and when you can fit something sweet into your weight loss plan without negatively impacting your calorie goal for the day, that’s a win for you. 

By the way, there’s good research that shows that how much and how well you sleep can impact your weight.  Many beverages, regular as well as diet, contain copious amounts of caffeine.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) lists the caffeine content of a variety of foods ranging from coffees to soda.  Most caffeinated sodas contain about 35-40mg per 12 oz. can, but that can range up to 54mg in Mountain Dew.  Caffeine is mildly addictive, and is not recommended for pregnant women—or for kids.

CSPI says that one of the reason manufacturers might add caffeine to sodas is because it is addictive—and many will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop consuming caffeinated beverages. These withdrawal symptoms include irritability, insomnia and headaches.  If someone is sleep-deprived, it could contribute to overweight and obesity.

The best beverages are water, herbal teas and sparkling water.  If you’d like a bit more flavor with your beverages, try a splash of lemon, lime or 100% fruit juice.  A teaspoon of sugar, or honey, or other natural sweetener has about 20 calories—it’s a great idea to get used to less sweet beverages, so that your palate develops discrepancy and you more appreciate the taste of sweet.

Truth: Diet soda contains zero calories, and are sweetened with a variety of approved and safe non-nutritive sweeteners. 

Consequences: Drinking soda in place of nonfat milk means you’re missing out on calcium, protein and other valuable nutrients.  Drinking sweet all the time means you’re always on the lookout for a “sweet” fix. Try diluting sweet beverages, or switching to sparkling soda, brightened with a splash of citrus.

Susan Burke March is Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator, who as eDiet's Chief Nutritionist  promotes the dietary health and well being of consumers worldwide.

Photo Credit: ©WENN 2013

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