Regular v.s. Diet Soda

Q: I am trying to lose weight so is it o.k. to drink diet soda instead of regular?

A: Let’s talk a bit about those liquid calories. Humans have developed a relatively new (evolutionary speaking) calorie source – sugared beverages. These beverages were not available for many, many years and our bodies do not necessarily process them well.

People of all ages seem to like sodas and the market has responded to this desire. There are so many types of soda on the market and in supermarkets, there is an aisle or two devoted to sodas alone. There is a plethora of brands and the sizes have increased. The original Coca-Cola was in a 6.5 ounce bottle. Now, the individual can or bottle of soda is two to three times that amount. Earlier on, McDonald’s offered a seven ounce size soda. Now, they offer 12, 16, 21, 32, and 42 ounce soft drinks. At restaurants, sodas often come with free refills.

Sodas represent some of the cheapest calories available in our society today. Not surprisingly, drinking large amounts of soda is correlated with carrying extra weight.

It also is just not sodas anymore. There are sweetened punches, sports drinks, waters, and flavored coffees and teas. Some of the sweetened coffee drinks can contain 400+ calories in one serving. Liquid calories typically do not give us satiety – that sense of being full and satisfied. People often forget to count those calories as well.

At the same time, people will convert to the “zero-calorie” drinks thinking that that will prevent weight gain. That does not appear to be the case. Using artificial sweeteners can be associated with an increase in food intake and thus, weight gain.

In one study, rats fed artificial sweeteners had a higher intake of rat chow and thus a greater calorie intake. Why might this be?

The insulin response can be triggered by artificial sweeteners. The increase in insulin secretion results in a transient decrease in blood sugar. It will gear metabolism to storage and away from energy use. Other studies have shown that the artificial sweeteners will activate brain receptors in the appetite center of the brain to stimulate cravings for carbohydrates which in turn leads to overeating and increased calorie consumption and weight gain. Likewise, drinking sodas often go along with eating fast and convenient foods and junk foods – foods that are high in calories and fat and not many good quality nutrients.

Instead of drinking sugared and artificially sweetened drinks, choose water and herbal teas.

Kathleen Baskett, MD is the Medical Director of Weight Management at St. Vincent Healthcare. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and the author of “Moving Forward: The Weigh to a Healthier Weight”.