The “Diet Soda Paradox”

Diet soft drinks.  Americans have a love/hate relationship with them, but one thing is certain:  Americans drink a lot of diet soda.  Mostly, this is an effort to either lose weight or protect against weight gain.  Several studies have been published in the last couple of years showing that drinking diet soft drinks does not accomplish these goals at all.  The mechanism of this paradox has been murky; shouldn’t a zero-calorie drink lead to weight loss?  One hypothesis has been that the artificial sweetener fools the brain into expecting sugar (which the brain needs to function); when the sugar doesn’t arrive, the brain increases hunger signals in an attempt to find the “missing” fuel.

New research in the April edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicates that the results may have more to do with what is habitually eaten along with the diet soda.  In other words, people with relatively healthy diets tend to drink less soda overall, while those who eat the Standard American Diet (S.A.D. — high in salty, fatty, processed foods) consume more soda, including diet soda.  Moreover, there is a “permissiveness” effect from drinking diet soda:  psychologically, reaching for a diet soda instead of a sugary drink justifies a big serving of chips or fries along with it.
While the experts split hairs about whether or not diet soda is a bad thing, I say kick the habit now (after all, you wouldn’t want to increase your risk of stroke, would you?).  Consider the alternatives:
  • Get a reusable water bottle, and make pure water your go-to drink.  Add a squirt of real lemon or lime juice for a little flavor, if you miss it.  No need to replace one highly processed food (diet soda) with another (“designer” waters).
  • Green tea:  go beyond the Lipton — there are many different varieties, with flavors that should appeal to everyone.  And how about a 20-30% lower risk of cardiovascular disease as a bonus?

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