Ditching Diet Soda
If you’re still drinking diet soda as a healthier alternative to regular sodas or other sweetened beverages, it’s time to stop. Instinctively, we think that in order to control our weight, it’s smarter to drink a zero-calorie diet soda instead of a regular soda with hundreds of calories of pure sugar. However, scientific research has shown that this untrue for decades. Clearly the soda manufacturers have been very successful in their advertising campaigns.
Your weight is a result of far more than a simple calories-in-calories-out equation. Underlying and unconscious drives determine what you eat far more than you might realize. Artificial sweeteners play all sorts of tricks on your body’s chemistry, making it much more detrimental to your health than the real stuff.
First off, sweet tastes—artificial or natural—increase appetite. When you drink a diet soda, your body recognizes the sweet taste and responds with this appetite increase. However, the part of your brain that derives satisfaction from food is unaware of the diet soda. This results in a disconnect: one part of your brain responds to the sweetness, but another part is unaware of it because there is not actually any nutrition in it. Our brains and bodies are not happy with imbalances, and strive to correct them. In this case, they strive to correct it by increasing your appetite further so you get the food to make the food-satisfaction pathways in your brain happy. Put simply, your brain recognizes the sweet taste but doesn’t find any food, so compels you to get the food it expected to find.
Studies show that regular diet soda intake is associated with a vast increase in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. One study found a 67 percent increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes with daily diet soda consumption, compared to a 22 percent increased risk from sugar-sweetened soda. One hypothesis to explain why has to do with that same disconnect between the taste sweetness but lack of nutrients. When your brain senses the sweetness, it initiates the release of insulin into your blood to maintain a normal blood glucose level. However, there is not actually any sugar to process, leaving the insulin free-floating in your body. This excess insulin also results in an increase in appetite, in an attempt to give the insulin sugars to process. But even worse, your cells begin to “ignore” the insulin, leading to a dangerous insensitivity to insulin that accounts for that increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
Even outside of complicated neurochemistry, the sweet taste has another negative consequence. We simply tend to crave the kinds of foods we eat the most; the flavors we prefer are the ones we are most used to. Therefore, the more sweet things you get, the more sweet things you want. Drinking diet soda doesn’t satisfy your sweet cravings, it fuels them. If you want to crave fewer sweets, you have to consume fewer sweets. Eventually your tastes will adjust and the urge will fade. And better yet, naturally sweet things, like fruits, will taste much sweeter once you are less dependent on the flavor.
One more dietary consideration: overcompensation. Although we are becoming more aware that it is not a good choice, many people still consider diet soda healthy…or at least healthier. And when you know you haven’t gotten any calories from your drink, it becomes easier to say yes to that cookie. Conscious or not, this line of thinking could be costing you hundreds of calories a day.
Suffer from chronic headaches or migraines? Could be the preservatives or the aspartame used in diet sodas. Many studies have linked both aspartame and potassium benzoate—a common preservative—to these conditions. You might just be doing more harm than good if you swallow those pain relievers with more diet soda! Take a break and see if it helps.
Drinking diet soda is a hard habit to break. Between the taste, the bubbles and the caffeine hit, it is truly addictive. Switching to regular soda is certainly not a good choice, because nobody needs all that extra sugar. The good news is there’s no real evidence to suggest you should quit caffeine. Just switch to hot or iced coffee or tea for the caffeine, and avoid artificial sweeteners! If you must, use just a touch of real sugar or honey, and try weaning yourself off it over time. If it’s the bubbles you love, switch to sparkling water—but read labels, because many kinds come along with artificial sweeteners too. Look for nothing but sparkling water and natural flavors, such as in LeCroix. It may be a tough habit to break, but getting off the fake sugars really is important for your long-term health and wellness.