“I’ll have a burger and a diet cola, please!” No matter where we eat out these days, from fast food to fine dining, you hear this order a lot. I know I sometimes feel like I can consume more calories at a meal because I chose the diet beverage. But how accurate is that way of thinking? Should we be drinking as much diet soda as we do?

First, to be clear, there is no absolute right or wrong about food or beverage consumption. I provide information I hope is useful to your own lifestyle. Remember what I always say: “Education is the best prescription.”

Just to give you some idea of the popularity of soft drinks in general, our country produces 10.4 billion gallons of soft drinks yearly. We do love our soda pop. Diet soda especially is often paired with unhealthy food choices such as burgers and pizza. My husband is a pizza lover who cannot eat pizza without diet soda. He says the pizza tastes better with soda, and after all, it’s “diet” soda.

But if the food actually tastes better to him, will he eat more pizza than he normally would with say, water as a beverage? This is a question that has actually been posed in studies. Do diet beverages allow and/or cause us to eat more calories? Data presented recently at the American Diabetes Association’s scientific sessions suggest that diet soft drinks may actually contribute to weight gain. One theory as to why this may happen is that your brain tastes something sweet which triggers a release of insulin and elicits a response from the liver. In the body’s confused state, healthy protein and starch production is interrupted, and to make matters worse, you are hungry again, which is an adaptation response.

There are several other researched complications from soda, including dehydration, dental issues and reflux. Frequent sipping or gulping of diet soft drinks can blunt your thirst. As we know, nothing hydrates better than pure water. This can make you more prone to dehydration, especially in warmer weather. If you drink diet beverages in the heat, make sure you also drink clear fluids like water to prevent dehydration. Acids present in soda can be unhealthy for your teeth. This is why some dentists recommend using a straw when drinking soda, to help decrease tooth exposure. Too many carbonated beverages can possibly be harmful to the stomach, and patients with reflux may have increased symptoms if they consume too much soda.

A recent study done at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and the Columbia University Medical Center looked at the soda drinking habits of more than 2,000 people who participated in a 10-year study. Researchers found that people who reported drinking diet soda daily had a 43 percent higher risk of having a vascular event than those who did not drink any soda. Clearly, more research is needed to come to a more compelling conclusion. It should also be noted that those who drank occasional diet soda did not seem to have an increased risk of vascular events.

This is by no means meant to scare you into not drinking diet soda. I drink it fairly often. Rather, it’s probably another justification for the phrase, “All things in moderation.” There are, as we know, artificial sweeteners in diet beverages that some of us may or may not be sensitive to. Some people seem to get headaches from aspartame, for example. Everyone is different, and good sound choices need to be made by all of us every day. Should I have the cupcake or the fruit plate?  Sometimes, I choose the cupcake! Is it ok to veer off course occasionally? I think that there is no perfect method to stay healthy. Life is about balance; just try to stay between the navigational beacons.

You need to look at the data for yourself and make choices that are right for you. My job is to try to provide you with as much information as I can. If you see interesting studies, please forward them and I will share with the readers.

Stay well!

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