Some nutrition experts will tell you all about why diet pop is bad, while others will recommend it instead of sugary drinks. What's the truth? Is it ok to drink diet pop?
What's in Diet Pop
It's the sugar in soda pop that makes it fattening. According to the Coca-Cola Company, one eight ounce serving of Classic Coke has 97 calories, with 27 grams of carbohydrates. At four grams of carbohydrates per teaspoon of sugar, there are about six and one quarter teaspoons in every serving. Most of us drink a lot more than eight ounces of pop at one time. Cans have 12 ounces; plastic bottles often have 20 ounces, for a whopping 240 calories.
Diet pop does away with the sugar. Instead, it's flavored with chemicals that taste sweet but don't provide any energy. These chemicals make it possible for diet pop to taste sugary, so you can satisfy your soda cravings but still have zero calories.
There are five artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA. They are:
- Acesulfame Potassium
Artificial Sweeteners and Your Health
Most people who talk about why diet pop is bad are worried about the artificial sweeteners. Over the years, various diseases and other problems have been blamed on these chemicals. However, as of mid-2007, the FDA continues to state that they're safe. For the most recent information, check the FDA web site.There is some evidence that aspartame can cause headaches or dizziness in some people. Many other health concerns have been debunked, but the research isn't perfect. For more information about safety studies on artificial sweeteners, visit the Food Additives Page at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
A Reason Why Diet Pop is Bad: The Connection with Weight Gain
Even if artificial sweeteners are safe, there may be another reason why diet pop is bad. Drinking diet soda has been linked to weight gain.
According to a 2005 report from a scientist at the University of Texas, people who drink a lot of diet pop are more likely to become overweight than people who drink sugared soda. The study tracked weight gain among 1,177 people over seven to eight years. At the beginning, none of the participants were obese. By the end of the study, the risk of becoming obese had increased by 41 percent for each can of diet soft drink subjects drank per day. For each level of consumption (less than one half can a day, one half to one can a day, one to two cans a day, or more than two cans a day), diet soft drink users had a higher risk of being overweight than people who drank regular soft drinks.
Does this mean that there's something about diet pop that makes you gain weight? Not necessarily. It's possible that people who notice they're getting fatter switch to diet drinks, but don't do enough to keep their weight down in other ways. So they continue to gain weight in spite of drinking diet pop, not because of it.
Confusion About Calories
A much smaller study, published in 2004 in the International Journal of Obesity, looked at the effects of artificial sweeteners on the appetites of laboratory rats. For ten days, rats were fed either sugary liquids or a mix of artificially sweetened and sugar-sweetened liquids. At the end of the ten days, they were given a sweet, high-calorie snack and then offered regular food.
The rats that had been fed the sugar-sweetened liquids ate the snack, then had some of their regular food, and then stopped. Their bodies seemed to recognize that they'd already taken in a lot of calories. The rats that had eaten artificial sweetener ate the snack and then chowed down on their regular food, eating significantly more than the other group. Their bodies didn't seem to "know" that they were going overboard on calories.
Why did this happen? The researchers weren't sure, but they suggested that eating artificial sweeteners might disturb the body's natural regulation of caloric intake. In other words, if you drink a lot of diet pop, your body may get "confused" about how many calories are enough. However, it's important to remember that this was a small, preliminary study, and there's no way to know if the same results would occur in humans, or even in a different group of rats.
Diet Pop and Diets
If drinking diet pop doesn't make you skinny, why do doctors still recommend switching to diet soda if you're trying to lose weight? The idea is that if you drink a lot of regular soda, you're already consuming a lot of extra calories in the form of sugary drinks. Cutting out those calories can help you shed pounds. Just make sure you don't replace them with other sugary treats!