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Is Your Diet Soda Making You Fat?



by Susan Fekety, RN, MSN, CNM



A challenging part of my job involves supporting people to limit or (gasp!) eliminate things that are not so good for them. Many otherwise stable individuals get wide-eyed and resistant when I suggest that they phase something out – even temporarily. Try as I might to refocus the conversation on all the other wonderful things that remain fully available, there is often whining, bargaining, and the other stages of grief. But where I really get backlash is around diet soda, like that "pry my cold dead fingers" thing. People drink it all day long, can't give it up. Artificial sweeteners are everywhere – especially in new "healthier" foods for kids. "Low sugar" is big money, and I think it's big trouble coming our way.

The list of side effects attributed to artificial sweeteners is long and scary. I think the evidence really does suggest that these chemicals are hazardous. Oddly (not!), research results seem to vary depending on whose money paid for the study. Aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal) has been linked to cancers and brain symptoms (depression, panic, seizures, headaches, and memory impairment,) perhaps because it breaks down into formaldehyde – particularly in a warm can like the one in the trunk of your car. Sucralose (Splenda) is quickly replacing aspartame as the artificial sweetener of choice but it's a chlorinated sugar molecule – and ingesting chlorinated molecules is generally not recommended. (It has been said that sucralose resembles DDT more than it does food – and it was discovered by mistake on the way to development of a new pesticide.) The safety studies on Splenda were short and were only done on rats, so guess who the real guinea pigs are?

I think the important thing is that artificial sweeteners – whichever one you pick – is that they confuse your brain about what you are eating. These sweeteners appear to alter brain signaling so much that normal mechanisms of appetite control ("Stop eating now dear, you've had enough") get screwed up. Lab rats fed artificial sweeteners overeat to compensate – sound familiar? And did you hear about the study reported last month where people who drank soda had more problems with belly fat, high cholesterol, and weight gain? The surprise was that it did not matter whether people drank regular 12-teaspoons-of-sugar-per-can soda, or the artificially sweetened kind: whatever they drank messed them up. Your body, thinking that it was supposed to be getting some actual nutrients from that thing that tasted so sweet, sends you out looking for something ELSE that might actually have some food value in it. So when you're done with your soda, you go looking for cookies -- because your body is still starving.

So – diet sodas and other "noncaloric beverages" are not equivalent to water so don't fool yourself. Seriously, I'd rather people have small quantities of natural sugars (maple syrup, molasses, rice syrup, agave nectar, honey) instead of lab chemicals your body will try valiantly to digest and detoxify but truly hasn't a bit of use for. Or consider stevia – a plant extract that is very, very sweet. Not an FDA-approved food additive here, it has been widely used in Japan for years – and there is an interesting story there, too. But if you can manage it – go have some real food too!




Article © Copyright 2007 by Susan Fekety. All rights reserved worldwide. Duplication or reprints only with express permission of the author or, for a nonprofit purpose, without consent so long as the author's name and contact information are included as follows: "Reproduced with permission from Susan Fekety," These articles are provided for informational purposes only. Their content is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own health care professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem promptly contact your health care provider.




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