What’s the Skinny with Diet Soda and Other Zero Calorie Drinks?

When I go out to eat, I often opt for a diet soda over a full sugar soda. Since I am going out to eat a lot more lately, I have found myself drinking much more diet soda or seltzer water than I usually do. A recent Harvard Health Blog post piqued my interest and prompted me to do some research of my own on diet sodas and seltzers. Are these alternatives to full sugar soda helpful or harmful in weight loss, or possibly even detrimental to our health?

The Problem with Carbonated Water

One recent study concluded that the consumption of carbonated beverages causes humans and rats to increase their food consumption and increases the release of ghrelin, a hormone linked to hunger, food intake and growth hormone release. I was always under the assumption that the sugar in soda increased the appetite—not the carbonation itself. Apparently, we also need to be wary of artificially sweetened soda and seltzer water as drivers of appetite, and in turn weight gain. I’m not going to lie, this one hit me like a gut punch because I love fizzy water and have been drinking it regularly on my weight loss journey. However, the times I’ve struggled the most with hunger were times I was drinking copious amounts of fizzy drinks.

The Problem with Artificial Sweeteners

The FDA has approved several artificial sweeteners including: aspartame (Equal™), acesulfame potassium, neotame, saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low™), sucralose (Splenda™), stevia, luo han guo (monk fruit extract), and advantame. Although these sweeteners are FDA approved, they are only deemed safe at a limited beverage consumption of less than 24 ounces a day. Some health experts are concerned with how these intense sweeteners influence your tastes and set you up for overeating other hyper-palatable foods. One study even suggest that intense sweetness produces more pleasure than cocaine in rat brains—which may suggest a similar addictive response in humans. In terms of overall health, more research is needed to determine if the consumption of artificial sweeteners increases your risk of developing cancer, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, obesity or other conditions.

The Case for Diet Soda and Seltzers

Let’s play devil’s advocate for a second. Are there any redeeming qualities of diet sodas or seltzer waters? According to a recent Washington post column by Tamar Haspel, the research is not yet clear on the overall health consequences of artificial sweeteners. Even the doctor that co-authored the American Heart Association’s stance on artificial sweeteners admitted to Haspel that none of the health concerns raised have been definitively proven yet. In terms of weight loss, the studies regarding artificial sweeteners are conflicted as well. However, one study recent conducted on the National Weight Control registry revealed that 53 percent of people that have kept 30 pounds or more off for at least a year consume diet sodas. More research is definitely needed to determine if we should eliminate diet sodas and seltzers from our diets completely.

What Should I Be Drinking?

Well, you should definitely be drinking water—about 4-6 cups of it a day! In terms of seltzer water and diet sodas, you need to weigh the pros and cons for yourself. Given the recent research, I’m definitely rethinking my consumption of carbonated beverages of all kinds. I don’t think I’ll eliminate them entirely from my diet, but I will definitely be cutting back on my consumption. Moving forward, I consider carbonated beverages as more of a treat than a daily beverage of choice.

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Remember, be kind to yourself and keep moving forward!

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