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Ask the Doctor: Ditching Diet Soda

There are several reasons to eliminate diet soda.

A bad habit that Americans have developed is consumption of soda - whether it be regular or diet. While the overall consumption of soda has decreased in the past couple years, it is still high and soda companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi are figuring out other beverages Americans like to consume. The diet and zero-calorie drinks are really popular for a simple reason: we get to have something that tastes good, but without the guilt of calories.

While there are several reasons to elimate soda as a regular beverage (or at the very least have it as a treat), there are even more reasons to eliminate consumption of any diet or zero-calorie drink. I have even recommended to my patients that if they really want a soda, I'd rather they drink a regular one as opposed to the diet variety.

What's so bad about diet or zero-calorie soda? Well, aside from the artificial colors and flavors and the phosphoric acid that is in all soda, diet soda also has the added kicker of aspartame. Aspartame (also known as Equal or NutraSweet) is a common sugar substitute found in many foods and beverages that are promoted as low-sugar or sugar-free. Once in our body, aspartame breaks down into three major components: phenylalanine, methanol, and formaldehyde.  Phenylalanine is a naturally occuring amino acid is only harmful to those that have a disorder called PKU - an inability to process phenylalanine. Methanol and formaldehyde are both toxic to the body and can cause problems for the liver and kidneys. A common use for methanol is fuel; and formaldehyde is an elbalming agent. That's pretty scary right there. Aspartame acts as a neurotoxin and can lead to a variety of disorders including: mood disorders, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and liver or kidney dysfunction to name a couple.

Another finding associated with the consumption of diet soda is type 2 diabetes. As noted earlier, the consumption of aspartame can lead to high blood sugar and an inability to regulate insulin in our body. Also, the other big thing that happens when we drink diet soda is justification to eat what we want. The logic here is: I'm not getting the calories with a regular soda by drinking diet, so I can eat more. Essentially, people are accidentally consuming more calories than they intend, and sometimes this is with unhealthy choices.

Whenever we consume things that are high in sugar or high in fats (saturated fats like french fries and onion rings), there is a chemical release in our brain that says, 'Hey, this makes me feel good, let's have some more.' Essentially, there is a decreased sense of satiety, so we end up eating more. Ever notice how you can eat more dessert than you think after a filling meal? Or does that just happen to me? This is because our brain has released dopamine and serotonin - feel good neurotransmitters - when we eat fatty food and lots of sugar. Regular soda is, of course, high in sugar; the aspartame found in diet soda, however, is much sweeter than regular table sugar.  So, this triggers the release of those feel good chemicals even more.

There are great alternatives to diet soda, water being the most important. If you want to have a soda, regular is always better and some of the organic brands are the way to go. While still high in sugar, they lack the bad stuff in your typical soda.

Here are a few interesting articles for you to peruse:

Sally Nelson June 14, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Eat this, don't eat that. No wait...eat that, don't eat this....or wait, is it that and not this. I begining to think an IV diet is the way to go.

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