The idea of consuming 30-34 five-pound bags of sugar in 365 days sounds really farfetched, right? Consider the following: An average 12-ounce can of regular soda contains 8-12 teaspoons of sugar. It takes only four 12-ounce cans of regular soda to equal ¼ pounds of sugar. For many of us, drinking this amount of regular soda is simply part of our daily routine.
It’s no wonder Americans are turning to what they believe to be a healthier alternative. Diet drinks have become widely popular, as about one in five Americans drinks diet soda every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While many people think of diet drinks as healthy, low-calorie substitutions for sugary drinks, a small but growing body of evidence suggests that diet drinks might have health downsides. In her article “10 Reasons to Give up Diet Soda,” Mary Squillace points out that diet drinks satisfy our urge for something sweet because they contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin and sucralose. But there’s more to this chemical cocktail than meets the eye.
DIET SODA CONFUSES YOUR BODY
“Artificial sweeteners have more intense flavor than real sugar, so over time diet sodas dull our senses to naturally sweet foods, like fruit,” says Brooke Alpert, author of “The Sugar Detox.” Even more troubling, these sugar stand-ins have been shown to have the same effect on your body as sugar. “Artificial sweeteners trigger insulin, which sends your body into fat storage mode and leads to weight gain,” Alpert says.
DIET SODA COULD LEAD TO WEIGHT GAIN
Diet drinks are calorie-free, but they won’t necessarily help you lose weight. Researchers from the University of Texas found that over the course of about a decade, folks who drank diet soda had a 70 percent greater increase in weight circumference compared with non-drinkers. Participants who drank two or more sodas a day experienced a 500 percent greater increase.
“The way artificial sweeteners confuse the body may play a part, but another reason might be psychological,” says Minnesota-based dietician Cassie Bjork. “When you know you’re not consuming any liquid calories, it might be easier to justify that double cheeseburger or extra slice of pizza.”
DIET SODA HAS NO NUTRITIONAL VALUE
When you drink diet soda, you’re not taking in any calories — but you’re also not swallowing anything that does your body any good, either. The best no-calorie beverage? “Plain old water,” says Bjork. “Water is essential for many of our bodily processes, so replacing it with diet soda is a negative thing.” If it’s the fizziness you crave, try sparkling water instead.
DIET SODA ALTERS YOUR MOOD
Scary as it is, aspartame, the sweetener in Diet Coke, is on an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) list of potentially dangerous chemicals contributing to neurotoxicity, right beneath arsenic. The American Academy of Neurology has discovered that artificially sweetened drinks are connected to a higher risk of depression — at least 30 percent.
“Sweetened beverages are commonly consumed worldwide and have important physical — and may have important mental health consequences,” said study author Honglei Chen, with the National Institutes of Health in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. “Our research suggests that cutting out or down on sweetened drinks or replacing those with unsweetened beverages (like water) may naturally help lower your depression risk.”
So the next time you reach for a diet soda, ask yourself, “Is diet soda bubble trouble?” Replacing your favorite diet drink with water is the best go-to practice, producing guaranteed short- and long-term health benefits. So go ahead, drink up the H2O!
Kandy Childress is the executive director of Healthy Kingsport. She can be reached at kchildress@ healthykingsport.org .