Nutrition and Prevention

Diet soda may be making you fat

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By Lylah M. Alphonse – Tue, Oct 4, 2011 12:18 AM EDT

Photo: Thinkstock

Photo: ThinkstockThink you’re making a healthier choice when you reach for diet soda instead of a sugary soft drink? Think again.

Diet soft drinks may have minimal calories, but they can still have a major impact on your waistline, according to two studies presented at a meeting of the American Diabetes Association in San Diego.

Researchers at the Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio tracked 474 people, all 65 to 74 years old, for nearly a decade, measuring the subjects’ height, weight, waist circumference, and diet soft drink intake every 3.6 years. The waists of those who drank diet soft drinks grew 70 percent more than those who avoided the artificially sweetened stuff; people who drank two or more servings a day had waist-circumference increases that were five times larger than non-diet-soda consumers.

The findings are in line with those of a 2005 study, also conducted by researchers at the Texas Health Science Center, in which the chance of becoming overweight or obese increased with every diet soda consumed.

“On average, for each diet soft drink our participants drank per day, they were 65 percent more likely to become overweight during the next seven to eight years, and 41 percent more likely to become obese,” said Sharon Fowler, who was a faculty associate in the division of clinical epidemiology in the Health Science Center’s department of medicine at the time.

But how does something with no calories cause weight gain? Turns out that even if our taste buds can’t tell the difference between real and fake sugar, our brains can. Another study, also presented at the American Diabetes Association meeting on Sunday, found that after three months of eating food laced with aspartame (which is also found in many diet soft drinks), mice had higher blood sugar levels than rodents who ate regular food. According to Fowler, who worked on all three studies and is now a researcher at UT Health Science Center at San Diego, the aspartame could trigger the appetite but do nothing to satisfy it. That could interfere with your body’s ability to tell when you’re full-and could lead you to eat more in general.

It happens in humans, too. A 2008 study found that women who drank water sweetened with sugar and water sweetened with Splenda couldn’t taste a difference, but functional MRI scans showed that their brains’ reward center responded to real sugar “more completely” than it did to the artificial sweetener.

“Your senses tell you there’s something sweet that you’re tasting, but your brain tells you, ‘actually, it’s not as much of a reward as I expected,'” Dr. Martin P. Paulus, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego and one of the authors of the study, told the Huffington Post. So you chase that no-calorie soda with something more caloric, like a salty snack. The sweet taste could also trigger your body to produce insulin, which blocks your ability to burn fat.

Aside from the health problems that go along with a widening waistline, diet soft drinks have also been linked to an increase in diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. One study of more than 2,500 people found that those “who drank diet soda daily had a 61 percent increased risk of cardiovascular events compared to those who drank no soda, even when accounting for smoking, physical activity, alcohol consumption and calories consumed per day,” ABC News reported in February. And a 2008 University of Minnesota study of nearly 10,000 adults ages 45 to 64 found that drinking a single can of diet soda a day led to a 34 percent higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a collection of health problems that includes high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and high levels of belly fat.

“Drinking a reasonable amount of diet soda a day, such as a can or two, isn’t likely to hurt you,” writes Katherine Zeratsky, a nutritionist at the Mayo Clinic. “The artificial sweeteners and other chemicals currently used in diet soda are safe for most people, and there’s no credible evidence that these ingredients cause cancer.”

“It’s hard to make a blanket statement on whether or not you should drink diet soda,” Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D., the nutrition editor for EatingWell Magazine, says. “At the end of the day what I think it comes down to is how are you using diet soda-is it truly a substitute for a higher calorie beverage or is it just an excuse to order the fries with your burger or a cookie for dessert? If it’s the former, go ahead. If it’s the latter, perhaps think twice.”

But no matter how the soda is sweetened, it is an empty calorie food, Wright points out. “It delivers no nutritional value whatsoever and so should only be consumed in moderation.”

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About Kim Martindale

Mother of two, wife of one, home manager, gardener, student of health and wellness, world traveler, nature lover, researcher, Jesus follower, community builder. I'm seeking to become resilient and to live sustainably. I desire to give back and share what I'm learning with others.

Discussion

9 thoughts on “Diet soda may be making you fat

  1. Woodrow C. Monte, PhD, a food scientist, researcher, and Professor Emeritus of Food Science and Nutrition at Arizona State University, has just published a comprehensive book, “While Science Sleeps, a Sweetener Kills,” which is now available on Amazon.com.

    The book presents Dr. Monte’s lifetime of research into the nutritional causes of the major diseases of civilization. His own research, along with the research of hundreds of other scientists, is presented in language the average reader can understand and apply to very easily avoid many of the worst diseases that currently kill the majority of people in the civilized world. Dr. Monte has carefully and thoughtfully pieced together the scientific evidence found in hundreds of scientific studies to show convincingly that the single culprit is methanol – a molecule found primarily in canned fruits and vegetables, tomatoes, cigarette smoke, smoked foods, and the artificial sweetener aspartame. Methanol is converted by the enzyme known as Alcohol Dehydrogenase Class 1 (ADH1) into formaldehyde inside the body’s most sensitive tissues.

    It is methanol that makes the aspartame taste sweet, and within ten minutes of consuming it, the methanol is released from its chemical bond. Each liter of diet soda contains the amount of methanol found in a pack of cigarettes, and evidence is mounting that diseases traditionally associated with smoking – most recently, heart disease and stroke – are now being associated specifically with aspartame consumption.

    The human body converts dietary methanol into formaldehyde in the stomach, liver, veins and arteries, lungs, pancreas, skin, breast, and brain. Dr. Monte makes a compelling case that it is this process, and the disease that results, that is responsible for the epidemics of a variety of cancers, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases like Lupus and Multiple Sclerosis, autism, and Alzheimer’s disease that have exploded over the past thirty years since the introduction of aspartame in the summer of 1981.

    The book also contains information and documentation showing that the product’s manufacturers and their friends in the Food & Drug Administration knew the dangers posed by aspartame, yet buried the evidence and released it for public consumption despite the risk. Furthermore, they knowingly marketed it to those research had demonstrated were particularly vulnerable to its harmful effects – diabetics and pregnant mothers. Since that time, adult onset diabetes has more than doubled worldwide, with diabetics dying from the major diseases of civilization at a much higher rate than the average population.

    Deaths from Alzheimer’s disease, in which formaldehyde inside the brain destroys memory function, have increased 10,000% since 1981. Neural tube birth defects are up around 70% in the same period of time despite efforts to compensate with recommended folic acid.

    Dr. Monte has decades of experience in food science and nutrition as a researcher, teacher, inventor, industry consultant and consumer advocate who is committed to food additive safety and the prevention of food borne diseases. He is a dedicated scientist with both a Ph.D. and M.S. in Food Science and Nutrition and a B.S. in Biology. He has been a Registered Dietician, Certified Nutrition Specialist AIN, professional member of the American Chemical Society and emeritus member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1985, he was chosen by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars as a Senior Fulbright Scholar. His testimony before Congress was instrumental in the prevention of Sulfites from receiving status of US FDA GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) and the implementation of mandatory labeling for most foods that contain this dangerous additive. More information about Dr. Monte and his work can be found on his website: http://www.WhileScienceSleeps.com.

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