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Friday’s Flavor: The truth about diet pop

Originally published October 22, 2010

Normally, our mind set is to “watch what you eat,” but has anyone ever thought about the importance of watching what you drink?

Recently, more attention has been paid to sweetened, carbonated beverages and their effects on body weight.

Throughout the course of a year, cutting out just one soda per day is one solution to help eliminate hundreds of excess calories from the diet.

Another solution to combating the excessive calorie content in these beverages has been to substitute sugar with artificial sweeteners, producing what we know as diet soda.

You have probably already heard of the six sweeteners that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration including: saccharin (Sweet’N Low), acesulfame (Sunet), neotame (NutraSweet), sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (Equal) and stevia (Truvia), the most recent approval.

What has made these sugar counterparts so remarkable is that they have virtually zero calories, hence, their main appeal to help promote weight loss for consumers.

While these sweeteners do provide some energy, since they are so intensely sweet, they are added in minuscule amounts producing a negligible calorie count. Additionally, these sweeteners have a small affect on blood sugars, making them a safe drink for diabetics.

Based on these assumptions, some may ask, “Why not only drink diet soda?”

However, there are a few reasons as to why more caution should be taken when consuming diet sodas.

In excess, this negligible calorie count can add up a more substantial amount than originally intended; therefore, the amount consumed should be monitored to avoid a surplus in calories consumed.

Secondly, recent speculation has developed as to whether diet soda is producing another affect that is opposite of what it was intended to do.

Some believe that the super-intensive sweeteners can convert taste preferences so that unsweetened foods are less palatable.

Furthermore, those who regularly consume diet drinks may develop increased preferences toward intensely sweet foods, thereby reducing diet quality, increasing calorie intake and in turn causing excess weight gain.

Even though this speculation has been driven by studies only conducted on animals, and no conclusive evidence has been confirmed as to the long-term effects of consumption on humans, individuals who are trying to lose weight, may still choose to consume diet drinks, but should limit their consumption.

In addition, they should also have a clear weight management program in place by balancing a healthy diet with daily exercise.

On the plus side, the FDA has dismissed the belief that sweeteners such as aspartame increase the risk of cancer.

To reach the level of toxicity associated with a cancer risk, a person would have to regularly consume up to 20 cans of an artificially sweetened beverage each day.

In addition, too much diet soda has been known to cause dizziness, headaches, diarrhea, memory loss and mood changes, yet the occurrence and severity these symptoms will be different for each individual.

Besides the issues with weight gain, carbonated beverages – diet or not – have zero nutrients but plenty of preservatives, flavorings and colorings that can be irritating to the stomach lining.

Along with, some studies have shown that individuals who drink soda have a higher incidence of osteoporosis. A better way to combat this problem would be to increase the consumption of high nutrient drinks, such as milk.

Another substitute for diet soda would be water, which has zero calories, does not irritate the stomach lining, is needed for the body to function properly and is much cheaper than soda.

Other healthful substitutions include mineral water, tea and coffee.