Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Diets vs Diet Soda

American diets have a reputation for being, let's face it, terrible.  Fast food, salt and sugar make up the major food groups and rather than face the fact that moderation and exercise are the keys to health, we look to "quick fixes" - drinking diet soda or depriving ourselves of a slice of cake.  Reality is that a slice of cake on occasion isn't going to do any harm, neither is an occasional soda or candy bar.  It is when these things become part of our daily diet that we have a problem.
Diet soda's were created in response to the abundance of soda sold and consumed in our nation.  Rather than ingest 150 calories in one soda (9-11 tsp of sugar) diet soda is offered as the solution to the calories and sugar.  Diet soda has 1 calorie (or .1 calorie) and artificial sweeteners (saccharine, aspartame, xylitol, sorbitol, lactitol, known as "sweet n' low, splenda, the pink envelope, etc).  The marketing behind diet sodas is two fold:
1. It is better for you than soda because it has no sugar.  NOT PROVEN.
Even though artificial sweeteners are created as artificially synthesized compounds, whereas the original formulas may have derived their sweetness from berries and fruit, it is not cost effective to do so.  So, artificial sweeteners that claim to be "derived from plants and fruits" may have originally been, but no longer, they are now created through catalytic hydrogenation in a laboratory.
2. Reduced calories in the diet soda produces weight loss.  NOT PROVEN.  
Drinking diet soda = weight loss is the premise, the message that the soda companies want to get across.  And it seems to have worked.  People feel that because they are drinking a no calorie soda, rather than a 150 calorie soda, they are saving themselves calories. 
Drinking diet soda is not a prescription for weight loss.  Diet soda's are still sweetened.  Yes, they have no calories, but the effect of drinking a super sweet (even if not sugar) substance creates a "taste" for sweets.  People are more likely to drink more diet soda, justifying that it is "diet".  Artificial sweeteners have multiple times the sweetness per weight than sugar.  Take for example - stevia has 250 X the sweetness by weight as sugar, Aspartame has 160 - 200 X sweetness by weight, Splenda has 600X.  

A 2005 study by the University of Texas showed that ingesting diet drinks was not a solution for weight loss, but rather a marker for obesity and weight gain.  Those that consumed diet soda were more likely to gain weight than those that consumed sugar sweetened soda.  They concluded that as people perceived they were gaining more weight, they drank more diet soda (feeling that they were doing some good).  Also, they concluded that sweetness in the soda created a trigger where the person sought out more sweets.  They concluded that you can't fool the body into thinking that you are getting something for nothing.

Interesting findings.  The solution for weight loss and health is clear, albeit it requires self control.  Weight loss is a simple formula - ingest fewer calories than you burn or burn more calories than you ingest.
There are no "quick" or easy solutions, but there are lifestyle choices that you can make.
Eliminating the daily sodas (diet or sugar sweetened) would knock off a lot of calories and reduce the urge to drink something sweet.  
Find out what you enjoy about the soda.  
Is it the bubbly refreshment?  If so, develop a taste for sparkling water, club soda with lemon or seltzer with lime.  
Is it the sweetness?  If so, determine if it is really worth it.  If the answer is yes, than reward yourself with one refreshing can a week.
Is it the convenience? This one is easy. If it is convenient to pick up a can of soda or a cup at a drive through, get a bottle of water instead.  If you feel that paying for water is ridiculous when tap water is free, pack your own water in a reusable bottle.  Or, think about the cost to your body for drinking a $2 soda instead of paying $1 for a bottle of water.  Either way, both are overpriced, so you might as well drink healthy.

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