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Diet Soda - Friend or Foe? Part I

posted Jun 22, 2015, 10:28 AM by Walk Strong Calgary   [ updated Jun 22, 2015, 11:29 AM ]
When I think of soda/pop/soft drinks, all of those great Pepsi and Coca-Cola commercials over the years come to mind, and I have to commend them for their strong marketing. I still remember some of Coke's slogans in particular: "It's the Real Thing," "Can't beat the feeling," "Coke adds life," and of course, the "Have a Coke and a smile" commercial featuring 'Mean Joe Green.'  

Diet soft drinks originated in 1952 with the introduction of a ginger ale that was marketed as a 'No-Cal Beverage' (source: dietsoda.org). The first diet cola on the market came in 1959. In today's calorie-conscious society, the demand for low-cal/no-cal beverages has sparked many new formulations and ad campaigns touting these reduced calorie, palate-conscious products. However, concerns have been raised over possible undesirable side effects and the fact that if using the products for weight loss, you may actually defeat the purpose. 

While research is really still in its infancy, there are some good reasons to eliminate diet sodas from your diet. Consider artificial sweeteners - the very fact that they're 'artificial' should set off at least a few warning bells. The very word means 'simulated, imitation, not real.' That may not necessarily mean it's bad for you, because it might take very large doses to cause harm. However, considering research is limited currently, do we really know whether or not these artificial compounds are slowly building up in a cumulative effect in our bodies if consumed regularly and in high quantity?

It's interesting to note that many who stop drinking diet soda report that they experience fewer migraines and sharper focus. According to the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, some of the compounds found in artificial sweeteners, specifically Aspartame in this case, can alter chemicals and nerve signals in the brain and the brain's reward system, leading to anxiety, headaches and insomnia. Aspartame can cause other minor discomforts such as digestive distress and mood swings, and in some individuals, the body can't process phenylalanine, an amino acid in Aspartame. Use common sense - if you feel discomfort after drinking diet soda, opt for something else. One thing to note is that while there have been concerns raised over the possibility of this sweetener causing cancer, these fears appear to be groundless according to the American Cancer Society. 

Here's a little test you can conduct yourself. If you tend to enjoy a diet soda with your meals, try skipping it and see if you notice a difference in the taste of your food. Artificial sweeteners overwhelm your taste buds, altering your brain's sweet receptors and prolonging sugar cravings rather than reducing them. You may find that your cravings change once you avoid these drinks - you may be more prone to reach for a piece of fruit rather than something sugary or salty according to Columbia University Medical Center's Weight Control Center. Bear in mind that results will vary from individual to individual depending on frequency and quantity of diet sodas consumed.

In Part II, we'll look at diet sodas and weight loss - do they defeat the purpose?

Nancy Ehle is a Certified Walk Leader through Leslie Sansone's Walk Live program as well as a Group Fitness Instructor through the American Council on Exercise. She also holds certifications as a Health Coach and in Sports Nutrition as well as several industry specialties. Her enthusiasm and passion for healthy living is infections! Join her on Facebook:  WalkStrongCalgary