Sweet little lies

We can all agree (or at least, my readers can) that sugar causes death. I have been writing about this, and warning my patients about it for years. And even the mainstream media is starting to catch on.

But the case against diet soda? Well, it’s going to take a little more work to get the word out on that one.

The fact is, artificial sweeteners are also linked to a higher risk of any number of chronic diseases. Including (but certainly not limited to) metabolic syndrome, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Oh, and let’s not forget excessive weight gain. (That’s right…the very thing diet sodas are supposed to prevent.)

Needless to say, this is a huge problem. America’s sweet tooth is unstoppable. And in our efforts to appease it without consequences, we consume 45 pounds of artificial sweeteners per person every year.

I recently came across an opinion article addressing this very subject. The author reviewed a collection of studies on the dangerous effects of artificially sweetened beverages (ASBs). And her findings are worth paying attention to.

It was tough to compare differences in risk between subjects who consumed sugary drinks and those who drank diet drinks–mostly because of differences in intake. Subjects who drank ASBs on a regular basis also started these studies with higher BMIs, on the whole.

Not that this is surprising. Drinks are usually the first place that many overweight people will try to “cut down” on consumption. When in fact, this is doing nothing helpful.

I mean, just think of all those morbidly obese people who walk into McDonald’s and order their Big Macs and large fries with a Diet Coke. I have to assume that they believe they’re making a healthier choice.

But the research on this matter is clear. It’s not healthier. Not by a long shot.

Even studies that removed baseline BMI from the equation found that ASBs raised risk of becoming overweight or obese, of developing type 2 diabetes, and of experiencing future heart problems.

But that’s not all. Diet soda drinkers also experienced altered brain responses compared with those who drank sugar sweetened beverages.

Imaging results revealed that sucrose (table sugar) activates reward centers and taste pathways in the brain, while sucralose (Splenda) doesn’t. Of course, this may sound like a good thing…but there’s more.

Studies found that hormone release is also altered after ingestion of artificial sweeteners. And this includes hormones responsible for regulating appetite and balancing blood sugar after a meal.

Translation: When you drink artificially sweetened beverages, your body doesn’t feel as full and your hunger isn’t as satisfied–two important signals that tell us to stop eating.

I don’t think I have to explain why this is a huge concern–especially if you’re trying to lose weight. Which brings me to one simple question I always find myself asking…

What’s wrong with water????

Water is nature’s preferred means of hydration. (Last I checked, more than half of the human body isn’t composed of cola.) So is it any surprise that, unlike diet soda, it migh actually help you lose weight?

A team of researchers recently reviewed over a dozen published papers in order to define the role that water plays in weight loss. Results were admittedly inconsistent–which means that water isn’t exactly a weight loss miracle.

But at least three of the studies–including two controlled trials–showed that increasing water consumption reduced body weight better than diet and exercise alone over a 3- to 12-month period.

This review appeared in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. And while it may not be conclusive, the message here definitely is.

Dieting or not, stick with water. Drink it sparkling or straight from the tap. You can even add a twist of lemon or a little crushed mint to make it fancy.

Whatever you do, just ditch the diet soda. And don’t ever look back.

Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements. Trends Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Jul 3. pii: S1043-2760(13)00087-8.
Association between water consumption and body weight outcomes: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Aug;98(2):282-99.