Monday, September 03, 2007


Not Surprising – Diet Soda Is Bad For You

As all of my clients can attest, one of the first things I aim to get everyone to do, no matter what their weight or the state of their health, is cut out artificially sweetened drinks and foods. This seems counterintuitive to many, especially those trying to lose weight. However, they soon learn the merits.

Some older studies have suggested that articial sweeteners stimulate hunger. But, it now seems they cause bigger problems. A recent and very compelling study actually found a significant positive association between soda drinkers (both regular and diet) and metabolic syndrome – a precursor to adult onset diabetes and heart disease. The study was part of the famous Framingham Heart Study and looked at soft drink consumption of over 6000 middle-aged adults over a 4-year period. Even after adjusting for other dietary and lifestyle factors, they still found that a significantly higher percentage of those people who consumed one or more 12-ounce servings of soda per day developed metabolic syndrome factors over the 4-year period than those who had less than one drink per day. It did not matter much whether the soda was regular or diet.

Metabolic syndrome, also known as insulin resistance or syndrome X, is associated with lifestyle factors such as lack of physical activity, being overweight, and having high serum glucose and lipids and high blood pressure.

Not many people would question that regular consumption of soda sweetened with high fructose corn syrup might result in weight gain or any of the other factors listed above, but diet soda? The authors of the study, which appeared in Circulation, Journal of the American Heart Association, 7/23/07, offer several possible explanations to this phenomenon. The high sweetness of diet (or regular) soft drinks may lead to a greater preference for sweets. They also suggest that caramel content of both diet and regular drinks may be “a potential source of advanced glycation end products, which promote insulin resistance and can be proinflammatory,” (increasing risk of damage to the arteries.)

I have been watching the effects of artificially sweetened drinks and foods for some time in my practice and discussing this with colleagues. We have noticed that, for most people, especially those trying to lose weight, removing these products can have a powerful impact. Many of us suspect (but studies are yet to confirm) that artificial sweetenrs may actually be more harmful than natural sweeteners. Articial sweeteners fool the brain to stimulate hunger and insulin response – simply thinking about the taste of sweet can cause a spike in insulin by telling the brain that something sweet is coming. This tells you to eat more sugar or more food to balance out insulin.

So, my advice to all my clients is to read packages and become mindful of the amount of sweeteners – both articial and otherwise – in the food and drink products they consume. Most are totally unaware of how considerable their intake of these sweeteners is and are amazed of how many products contain them, including those foods marketed as “health foods” – nonfat yogurts, frozen desserts, low calorie snacks and drinks, salad dressings, cereals, energy bars – just to name a few.

The goal is to remove these products from the diet and wean away from the taste of sweet. Most soon find that they enjoy their food and drink more and the benefits to their weight and health issues are truly remarkable.


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