STONE: Think twice about diet soda

Touting themselves as low-calorie alternatives to regular soda, diet sodas remain an ever popular choice to help win the war on calories … but, are we really winning by drinking them?

While many feel they’ve conquered calorie warfare, it might be time to rethink our strategies. More and more studies are suggesting an opposite side to diet soda consumption, in that it may actually contribute to weight gain and prevent your body from shedding unwanted fat.

In America, obesity continues to be a glaring problem impacting nearly 37 percent of the population (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). One thing is for certain, obesity is directly associated with many, largely preventable, conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. Giving ourselves every chance to succeed against obesity and these life altering conditions is worth looking deeper into.

Among the most publicized research came from a Purdue University research study published in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism. Purdue researchers contest that people who drink artificially sweetened beverages were more likely to gain weight and carry twice the risk of developing precursor health problems that can lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. The researchers cite the regular use of artificial sweeteners can trick the body into thinking its receiving fuel in the form of sugar. The metabolic process then adjusts itself and after no true sustenance is received; the body reacts by inciting a sense of craving to consume additional calories otherwise “lost” from drinking the diet soda.

Although more research is needed to validate these claims, some logic is made from these findings. Your body requires energy, and if deceived by artificial sweeteners, is likely to make up for those calories elsewhere such as an extra mid-afternoon snack or squeezing in a bag of chips on the fly. Others contest those who drink diet sodas may do so to justify a balance between eating poorly. Kind of lesser of two evils principle, that if by eating a Big Mac and fries, washing it down with a diet soda is better than doing it with a regular soda.

Either way, according to statistics from the San Antonio Heart Study, a quarter-century-long community-based epidemiologic study conducted at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, also suggest a link between diet soda consumption and obesity. The results of the study found that on average, for each diet soft drink 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.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 20 percent of the American population, aged 2 years and older, consumes diet drinks on any given day. While both diet and regular soda sales have dipped overall in past several years, America’s love affair with sweetened beverage is not likely to end soon. You yourself may be an avid diet soda drinker.

If the pounds just don’t seem to be coming off, switching to a healthier beverage alternative such as water, unsweetened tea, or black coffee are options worth considering. If it’s flavor you seek, infusing fruit with water might be the fix. For example, slice some of your favorite fresh fruits (not canned) or even vegetables (such as cucumbers) and add them to your water. The flavors from these ingredients will blend with the water, offering a unique taste, a slight sweetness, but without the calorie overload. The goal really is to “re-calibrate” taste buds by not relying on overly sweetened beverages and foods to satisfy cravings.

Regardless of the studies and what light they may eventually shed on the diet soda debate, the real issue is about making sound decisions based on credible information. The ongoing studies; whether opinions, observations, or scientifically based, reflect a trend worthy of exploring further to more definitively explain any correlation or link between artificial sweeteners and obesity. Partaking in artificial sweetened beverages is a personal choice. If you drink them regularly and weight continues to be an issue, ditching the diet soda and exploring other options is certainly not going to hurt.