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Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Why are diet-soda sales tumbling two to three times faster than sales of sugary fizzy drinks in America? Could be thanks to a supersize helping of negative news, as more and more reports uncap the facts that no-calorie sweeteners may not help your diet and instead could boost your risk for diabetes, heart disease and extra pounds.
No wonder one major soda maker has gone on the defensive, recently airing new ads touting calorie-free cola as an ally in the battle of the bulge. If your enthusiasm for artificial sweeteners has gone flat or if you’re worried about mounting evidence that this phony sweet has downsides, you’re not alone. (And BTW, you can quit. Dr. Mike quit his huge diet-cola habit cold turkey three years ago, switching to coffee, caffeinated water and plain water to wet his whistle.)
On the surface, diet sodas look like a dream come true. Flavor and fizz, without all that high fructose corn syrup and calories. The Food and Drug Administration has approved six non-nutritive sweeteners for use in foods and drinks — aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal), acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One), neotame (used in commercial food products), saccharin (Sweet’N Low, Sugar Twin), a stevia extract called rebaudioside A (Truvia, PureVia) and sucralose (Splenda, Nevella).
Yet even with FDA approval, conflicting and often bothersome research about calorie-free sweeteners keeps bubbling to the surface. The latest? Evidence from human studies shows that artificially sweetened drinks are associated with weight gain in adults and teens, and raise risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Some data even suggest that these zero-calorie sips could double the risk for metabolic syndrome, a huge risk factor for diabetes and heart disease. Other recent reports show consumption is linked to higher rates of depression. And in one study, people who drank diet sodas had a 70 percent greater increase in waist circumference over a few years compared to those who skipped soft drinks.
Beyond “Let’s Make a Deal” thinking
One reason diet sodas may backfire in an overall diet is that it’s easy to justify rewarding yourself with a cookie or fries or a second slice of pizza because you’ve eliminated hundreds of calories by choosing diet beverages over regular drinks. That’s called compensation. And to be fair, it doesn’t always happen. For some people, switching from regular soda to diet soda does save hundreds of calories. Keep everything else equal, and you could lose weight. (Read on for an even better choice!) But newer research says diet drinks and foods may mess with your brain and your metabolism. It turns out that artificial sweeteners flood your taste buds with sweet flavors but don’t light up satisfaction centers in your brain the way real sweets do. So cravings build. Artificial sweeteners also may ramp up your body’s response to real sugars and carbohydrates — spiking levels of blood sugar. This is where the frightening news of their link to metabolic syndrome, prediabetes and diabetes comes from.
Four ways to break an artificial sweetener habit
Want to cut down or cut out diet drinks? These strategies can help:
Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of “The Dr. Oz Show” (airing weekdays at 4 p.m. on WSET-Channel 13), and Dr. Mike Roizen of the Cleveland Clinic, are authors of “YOU: Losing Weight.” Their column runs in Tuesday’s Extra.
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