Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Diet soda -- a better alternative to sugary drinks?

A few years ago, right before my daughter's wedding, I received a phone call from my doctor.

"I have bad news," she said. "You have type 2 diabetes."

I was stunned. After all, diabetes does not run in my family, and while I am overweight, I am certainly not obese.

"You need to come in so we can talk about what we can do to get this under control," she continued. "In the meantime, cut out the sugar, no sodas, watch your carbs, and stop running around barefoot." She knew me well.

"But I just opened a can of Pepsi," I protested.

"Dump it out. Now."

Wow. After more than three decades living with a Pepsi addiction, the news that I could no longer feed that addiction sent me into a mild panic. Not that I drank excessive amounts of that sugary, syrupy stuff, but I did have to have one can a day.

Well, on the positive side of things, I thought, at least I should be able to drop 20 pounds by this time next year since I won't be having my daily dose of calorie-packed Pepsi anymore.

So, hesitantly, I made the switch and started drinking diet sodas. It took some getting used to, but before long I was downing at least twelve ounces a day. And guess what? My weight started increasing.

Now, my expanding waistline may have been due to some of the meds I was taking. It certainly can't be my diet, I reassured myself. After all, I was hitting Curves a few times a week and my arms and legs were gently sculpting into something I was willing to bare by summer. It was just that darned stomach area! I even lost a few inches in my hips. What was going on?

After awhile, I developed a really weird kind of sore throat. A constant ache that was different than anything I'd experienced before. And my joints started hurting. Walking became a struggle as my fibromyalgia flared. One morning, while lying in bed, the thought occurred to me that maybe my symptoms had to do with aspartame... that seemingly wonderful alternative to sugar.

So I got up and Googled it. And oh, the horror that was revealed! Yes, my sore throat and achy joints were related ... to aspartame poisoning. Diabetes was no longer the greatest risk to my health.

Of course, there are varying professional opinions about this. Snopes.com backs up the big money manufacturers of aspartame-related products and states that the claims linking aspartame to the increased cases of systemic lupus and multiple sclerosis are false.

Personally, I'm leery of so-called "research" when there is a lot of money to be lost. The researchers I trust on this, are the ones who have absolutely nothing to gain. Researchers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, American Stroke Association, University of Rochester Medical Center, and countless others continually conduct studies with the same results: aspartame is dangerous. Period.

But let's back to the reason why most people drink diet soda: weight loss. But guess what? Studies have proven that diet soda not only does not help you lose weight, but the opposite is actually true. It promotes weight gain, particularly around the mid-section. According to Leslie Bonci, Director of Sports Medicine Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, people do not lose weight while drinking diet soda. Why?

Well, there are various reasons for this. One is that diet drinks have been linked to increased triglycerides, which leads to higher numbers on the scale and tighter fitting clothing.

Another reason, according to an article on LiveStrong.com, is that your body is tricked into thinking you're consuming calories, even when you're not, based on the sweetness of the drink. That kicks in your metabolism, but the signals between the brain, stomach and hormones get confused since there actually aren't any calories. The result -- a metabolism that's riding on the brakes. When your metabolism slows, your weight gain speeds up. It's as simple as that.

There's another thing about drinking diet soda. Somehow, it makes you crave carbs. So, while you're watching your diet by skipping the sugary soda, the aspartame is sabotaging your diet. Yippee.

But it's not just about weight that makes diet soda so dangerous. According to the American Stroke Association, folks who drank diet soda daily had a 61% increased risk of having a stroke or heart attack. Let me repeat that -- a 61% increased risk of having a stroke or heart attack. That's some serious stuff!

Here's another thing that happens when women drink diet sodas: you excrete more calcium and phosporous than non-soda drinkers. What does that mean? Well, that can lead to lower bone mineral density. If you're consuming diet soda on a daily basis, you must face the fact that you are 3 - 4 times more likely to suffer from a stress fracture. Plus, your teeth will suffer as well, whether it's eroding tooth enamel or some other dental problem, you are bound to be paying more visits to your dentist if you're diet includes a fair amount of sugar-free sodas.

And what about if you're pregnant? Do we even need to go there at this point? Just in case, let's look at your increased risk of miscarriage. A 50% increase, at that! This is based more on caffeine intake, so it has to do with any kind of caffeinated drink, not just diet soda. If you consume more than 200 mg. of caffeine a day (coffee, tea, soda, chocolate), you double your risk of losing your baby because the caffeine can affect cell development and/or prohibit blood flow. Is it worth it?

I know this has been a long post, but I hope you're still with me, especially if you have children. This warning is for you!

In my opinion, which is based on a ton of studies done by medical professionals, children should never (notice, I said never) be permitted to drink diet anything...that includes Sugar-free KoolAid, etc. Even if the research is wrong, do you really want to take a chance introducing poisons, like methanol and formaldehyde, into your child's developing system?

It's something to think about.

On a side note -- do I ever drink diet soda anymore. Occasionally. I also drink small amounts of regular Pepsi from time to time. What I'm mostly referring to in this post is a daily consumption of diet soda.

Keeping you informed,


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