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Debating diet soda

When it comes to food, we can make ourselves believe anything. Nutella is not a treat. Two celery sticks with supper deletes two candy bars from this afternoon’s snack. And if it’s called ‘diet’ pop, it has to be better for you, right?

We also love all kinds of magic words like ‘light,’ ‘fat free’ and ‘diet’ that set off the little bells and whistles that ease our guilt when we’re eating or snacking. The problem is they don’t necessarily offer everything they promise. This is especially true when it comes to diet soda.

Diet soda is loaded with artificial sweeteners. That makes it taste as great as regular pop but when some of us drink it as a way to lose a few pounds it may also be blamed for doing the opposite. The artificial sweeteners have been controversial for years for their possible side effects and they’re contribution to other ailments. But nothing has been pinpointed for sure yet, and it’s hard for the experts to tell us 100% that they contribute to things like cancer. No matter what, if you take a good look at a label on your diet soda you’ll probably need to head to the Internet to find out what half of the ingredients are.

Part of the problem with any soda, is that it used to be considered a treat and it was something we only drank on occasion.

We’ve substantially increased our intake of every kind of pop the past few years. Most of us either do it ourselves, or know others, who drink multiple sodas every day.

Some experts suspect too much soda is actually responsible for the rising obesity problem and the spike in Type 2 diabetes.

The Mayo Clinic’s Women’s Health Source publication says drinking too much soda, period, could have health consequences that include general weight gain to osteoporosis to kidney problems. Neither our dentists nor our physicians are fans of the amount of either sweetener that is included in sodas. It’s typical for a 12-ounce can of soda pop have as many as nine teaspoons of sugar inside and somewhere around 140 calories.

This is why you often hear people say that when they quit drinking soda they were able to lose any number of double digit pounds by making just that change in their diet alone.

But is a diet soda any better for us?

“It’s a hefty question,” says Jamie Withrow, clinical dietician at Cuyuna Regional Medical Center on whether diet sodas are bad for us. Withrow agrees with all of the other experts.

“My stance on is that there’s not enough evidence out there, or inconclusive evidence, to say that diet pop is truly bad for us,” Withrow said. “But there also is not enough evidence to say that there is any benefit or that they are safe in large quantities over a period of time. In my practice I have had several patients actually report increased hunger and sweet cravings with the diet beverages, whether they are drinking diet pop, crystal light, or other sugar alternatives. When those individuals choose water instead, they have better weight loss success.”

Withrow does concede, “It is true that for diabetics, if they need to drink pop, diet pop doesn’t bring up blood sugar levels like regular pop.”

“But,” she adds, “It hasn’t really been around long enough to know what the long term effects might be overall.”

Withrow said she never recommends diet pop as a daily beverage. “In my practice, the only time I might say it would be okay is if an individual can use diet beverages in transition to eventually get to drinking water,” Withrow said. “Diet pop is not something I want people to switch to long term.”

Withrow also says that water is such a great substitute for soda and that you can do so many things with the flavor these days that it’s definitely your best option of all when it comes to choosing something to drink. Some people say they don’t care for the taste of water but you can always look for other options and ways to change the taste.

“There are a lot of people that enjoy changing the flavor by putting lemon or lime in their water. And there are some neat water pitchers you can buy for water that you can add fruit to.”

If lemon and lime aren’t enough of an additive for you, try adding strawberry, cucumber or mint leaves into the pitcher of water.

Withrow also says that she has had times where patients have claimed to feel some of the things previously mentioned, including the increased craving for sugary foods if they drink primarily diet soda. “Some people have said that they feel the urge to snack more so there may be a connection between fake sugars and snack craving,” she said. Which means it does not help in weight loss.

Although there is no solid evidence that diet sodas are harmful to us at this point, if you’re determined to drink soda you basically have to decide if you want your sweeteners straight up or if you’d rather take a chance on the artificial flavoring of the diet. Either way, if you’re looking to lose a few pounds, you are probably better off pouring a refreshing, cool glass of water.