So you finally kicked your regular soda habit, but now you find yourself reaching for cans of the diet soft drink variety. Trouble is – diet soda as a replacement for regular soda – is a whole new problem.
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“Switching from regular to diet soda may offer a short term cut in calories, but your body won’t be fooled for long,” says registered dietitian Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD. “Research suggests that your body reacts to certain nonnutritive foods, including the artificial sweeteners in diet soda, in ways that may actually harm your health.”
Here are three reasons why Kirkpatrick says it’s important to ditch the diet drink altogether:
1. Diet soda is associated with weight gain
Some research suggests that the brain reacts to artificial sweeteners much like it does to sugary sweets. Ingesting them frequently may result in an increased desire for high-calorie foods such as sugary treats, putting you at a greater risk of weight gain and binge eating all the cookies in the break room.
Another study found that overweight individuals who switched to diet soda were more likely to consume more calories in food than overweight individuals who drank regular soda. Those who drank diet soda even had a higher BMI than their counterparts.
2. Diet soda may cause insulin confusion
The brain normally associates “sweet” with calories. In the realm of human physiology, that’s a good thing. It drives your body to release insulin as sugar’s chaperone to the cells to create fuel. In the past, people assumed this process could not occur when we consumed artificial sweeteners because calories don’t follow the sweet flavor.
But, one study found the process could very well happen. In the study, individuals who consumed a specific artificial sweetener (sucralose) had increases in both insulin and blood glucose levels. Frequent rises in insulin have been linked to insulin resistance and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Some research has even associated artificially sweetened sodas with increased risk of stroke.
3. Diet soda may change your brain’s reaction to sweetness
Some research suggests that those who drink diet soda have higher activity in the area of the brain associated with the desire to consume foods high in fat and sugar. So those who drink diet soda seem to alter the brain’s sweet-sensing reward center. This means that diet soda could potentially change how the brain reacts to cravings for high-calorie foods.
So is it better to just drink regular soda?
Not so fast. There is abundant data that tells us that sugar (even when it’s “real”) is not necessarily a sweeter alternative, at least when health is concerned.
If you crave caffeine (in moderation), you are likely better off with plain coffee or tea. If you’re looking for flavor in a drink, try freezing raspberries, cucumber, mint, lemon or lime in ice cubes to add a hint of sweetness. You can even use fruit in soda water to recreate soda’s bubbly appeal.
Quitting a habit is never easy, but experts recommend that kicking soda all the way out of your diet can have profound effects on both your weight and your health.