Do Diet Drinks Really Help With Your Diet?

By David Groneck, DC, FASA

Most of us have heard of the health risks of consuming artificial sweeteners. For example, headaches, fatigue, addiction, and increase risk of brain tumors just to name a few. This article will not focus on those dangers. Instead, I would like to share some relatively new data on the effects of artificial sweeteners.

According to a lecture presented at the American Diabetic Association's Annual Scientific Sessions in 2005, drinking diet drinks may increase the chance of becoming obese, as well. Investigators looked at data from the San Antonio Heart Study involving 1550 people over a 7-8 year period.

What the following table shows is the percent risk of becoming overweight or obese from drinking either diet sodas only, regular sodas only, or half diet and half regular sodas. For example, drinking up to ½ can of diet soda per day over 7-8 years produces a 36.5% risk of becoming overweight or obese.

 

Diet Soda

Regular Soda

½ Diet & ½ Regular

Up to ½ can/day

36.5%

26.0%

38.9%

Up to 1 can/day

37.5%

30.4%

50.0%

Up to 2 cans/day

54.5%

32.8%

66.7%

More than 2 cans/day

57.1%

47.2%

50.0%


So why does drinking something that has zero to very little calories in it contribute to weight gain? It appears that tasting even a non-calorie sweetener will elicit insulin to be released from the pancreas. Since there is no sugar for the insulin to act upon, it may lower the existing blood sugar. This, in turn, can trigger hunger to make up for the drop in blood sugar. The more the blood sugar drops, the more one will eat to normalize it.

In another study published in The International Journal of Obesity, July 2004, found that artificial sweeteners may disrupt the body's ability to gauge caloric content by taste. Thereby disrupting the body's ability to regulate food intake. "Without thinking about it, the body learns that it can use food characteristics such as sweetness and viscosity to gauge its caloric intake. The body may use this information to determine how much food is required to meet its caloric needs," says Terry Davidson, professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Purdue University. When rats were given a high-calorie sweet snack after consuming an artificial sweetener for 10 days, they ate more of the high-calorie sweet snack than did the control group that was not fed an artificial sweetener. The study seems to indicate that the body has a harder time sending out the message, "I am full, stop eating", which can obviously lead to becoming overweight.

It seems as if this is just another mark against artificial sweeteners. If you do need an occasional non-calorie sweetener, try stevia. Stevia is an herb that produces sweet leaves. Due to a bitter aftertaste, most companies process the bitterness out which results in a white powder or a clear liquid. You may want to try several brands to find which one you like best.