The Great Diet Soda Debate
By Denis Faye
From the Million Dollar Body Club - Join Today and Workout to
To many weight loss enthusiasts, diet soda is the nutritional
equivalent of getting away with murder, a naughty indulgence to be enjoyed
without fear of repercussion or, more importantly, weight gain.
But are Coke Zero and Diet Pepsi truly
the nectar of the gods? Truth is, it's hard to say. Unlike with trans fat,
there is no hard and fast evidence showing that diet soda rots your insides.
However, there's also no evidence showing that it benefits you. There are,
however, plenty of studies indicating that diet sodas are, in a word, weird.
Whether it might cause heart disease, or it might make you
eat more junk food, or it might give you cancer, the big question
about diet soda is: is it worth it?
A little history
Diet soda bubbled into popular culture in 1952 when
Kirsch Beverages of Brooklyn, New York came out with No-Cal Ginger Ale, a
saccharine-sweetened drink aimed at diabetics. In 1962, Royal Crown came out
with Diet Rite Cola, this time sweetened with saccharine and cyclamate.
Coca-Cola rolled out Tab in 1963. Pepsi followed suit in 1965 with Diet Pepsi.
And the race was on.
In 1970, the artificial sweetener
cyclamate was banned in the United States when it was found to cause cancer in
lab rats. In 1977, saccharine came under scrutiny for the same reason. In the
1980s, soft drink manufacturers switched to aspartame. Today, while most diet
sodas still contain aspartame, someDiet Rite and Hansen Natural
Sodasuse sucralose, aka Splenda. Others such as Coke Zero and Diet Red
Bull throw a little acesulfame potassium into the mix. When the legitimacy of
the saccharine/cancer connection came into question in the 1990s,
saccharine-sweetened Tab returned to the market.
Some sweet science
If you're wondering which of these
sweeteners are good and which ones are toxic, the answer is hazy at best. For
example, one minute saccharine kills on contact, the next minute it's harmless.
Science gets even more wobbly for the other sweeteners, given that most of them
have only been around for a few decades. That's not much, considering it took
almost a century for anyone to figure out saccharine's potential health-risk
Nothing for something
A far more obvious concern with diet drinks is that
people think they've somehow cheated the system when this is most likely
not the case. A study by the University of Alberta published in the
August 2007 issue of the journal Obesity found that feeding a diet of
low- and zero-calorie food to young lab rats tampered with the body's ability
to recognize calories and regulate food intake, so that later in life, the rats
tended to overeat, even highly caloric foods.
Granted, these are rats, not people,
so the rules are very different, but this is still food for thought, so to
speak. How many times have you ordered diet soda at the movies, thinking that
it somehow made the accompanying giant tub of buttered popcorn acceptable?
Because you passed on a 150-calorie drink, you're now "allowed" to eat a
400-plus-calorie fatty snack? Hmmm.
In fact, a 2005 study by the
University of Texas Healthy Science Center showed that there's a 41 percent
increased risk of being overweight for every can of soda a person consumes in a
day. While the popcorn theory isn't the proven reason for these findings, it is
a definite possibility. Another plausible theory is that diet sodas alert the
body of a possible influx of calories without delivering the goods, causing
further calorie cravings.
Backing up this study is a July 2007
study by the Boston University School of Medicine. When 6,000 middle-aged men
and women were observed over four years, it was found that those who drank one
soda or more a day had approximately a 50 percent greater risk of metabolic
syndromea group of risk factors including excessive fat around the middle
section of the body, low HDL (good) cholesterol, high blood pressure, and other
But seriously . . .
Of course, it's easy to explain most
of this research away with chicken-and-egg logic. Is diet soda making people
unhealthy, or are unhealthy people drawn to diet soda in a misguided attempt to
turn things around?
And while we're debunking
anti-diet-soda theories, it's worth noting that, contrary to popular advice
(including, in the past, my own), carbonation does not pull calcium from your
bones. According to a report in the American Journal of Clinical
Nutrition in 2001, the calcium problem only occurred when the carbonated
drinks also contained caffeine.
But these two concessions are small potatoes compared
to the overwhelming, ever-increasing body of research suggesting that diet
sodas are problematic. True, none of the evidence is entirely conclusive and
even the researchers involved are quick to admit that their studies need to be
taken with a grain of salt. But, at the same time, every time you open a can of
Diet Coke, there's a giant question mark floating among those bubbles. You
don't really know what you're drinking and you have no idea what it's doing to
your body. It's up to you to decide, if it's really worth it when you could
have brewed yourself an iced tea (without sugar, of course)?
For some suggestions,
"12 Teas to Brew Up Better Health."