In today’s world, nothing is as it seems. Up is down, right is wrong, good is bad, and bad is good. And especially when it comes to health and nutrition, it can often feel like we’re living in a bizarro-world where counter intuition rules. So it should come as no surprise then that diet soda may actually sabotage your diet and lead to weight gain and other health complications. How can a calorie-less beverage undermine your diet and set you up for failure?
One of the biggest problems with diet sodas is that they trick your body into thinking you’re consuming something that you’re not. The body’s way to clear sugar from your blood stream and get it into target tissues is by releasing a hormone called insulin. Insulin signals your body’s cells to take in sugar and get it out of the blood. Sugar that floats around in your blood too long can cause serious health complications. Diet soda hijacks this system in that when you drink a diet soda and your tongue registers sweetness, your body thinks that you’re consuming sugar. In response, it releases insulin in order to be able to handle the expected incoming sugar rush and get the sugar out of your blood. But the joke’s on your body because diet soda contains no sugar and now it’s too late. Insulin has been released, and so any blood sugar that was already floating around in your blood will be cleared. Now your blood sugar is lower than a Hollywood starlet on a Sunday morning after a weekend of partying and binge drinking. Low blood sugar signals hunger and makes you crave high fat/high sugar foods. In addition, because your brain runs on sugar, having too little in your blood doesn’t allow your brain’s temptation resistance centers to work properly. So you drink another diet soda and the vicious cycle continues.
The most common artificial sweetener in diet sodas is aspartame, which has long been the subject of controversy. This is the chemical compound that tastes sweet, but has no actual nutritive value and thus tricks your body into thinking you’re eating something that might actually nourish you. The FDA declared in 1974 that aspartame is safe in moderate amounts. But we all know people who drink diet soda like it’s going out of style. There is nothing moderate about guzzling down six diet sodas at a restaurant before your entrée has even arrived. And I promise you that this is an all too common occurrence. And even if aspartame is safe to consume, it is still a foreign chemical and at best has no health benefit. Just because something isn’t bad for you, doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
Another danger inherent to diet soda is that it may induce a psychological concept known as moral licensing. This is when we give ourselves permission to be “bad,” because we’ve done other things that are “good.” Never before have value judgments been so dangerous. Picture a customer at the fast food counter placing his or her order, “I’ll have three cheeseburgers, large fries, an apple pie…and a Diet Coke.” Talk about missing the point. Just because you’re ordering a soda without calories doesn’t mean you can order 2,500 calories worth of food. Just like eating a salad for dinner doesn’t mean that it’s ok to power through a carton of ice cream for dessert. When it comes to many things in life, watch out for this little trick your brain plays on you and try not to fall for it so often. It will only sabotage your goals. To try and avoid this phenomenon, don’t divide choices into “good” and “bad” ones. Instead frame it in terms of how a behavior either helps or hinders you in pursuit of your goals.
Overall, just be aware of the dangers of diet and soda and don’t fool yourself into thinking that diet drinks are “free” or “don’t count” in any way. Now of course regular sodas are terrible for your health too, and have been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, cavities, and overall poor health. But at least with regular soda your body thinks that it’s getting a sugar rush and it does. Regardless though, diet soda is fraught with its own inherent dangers. Just because something doesn’t have calories, doesn’t make it healthy. A food’s calorie content is only one of many factors to take into account when determining if a food is healthy or not. The body is a whole system, and is affected by not only calories, but the type of calories, where the calories come from, vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients contained in the food. And when it comes to diet soda, all it’s bringing to the table is a brown fizzy chemical cocktail that doesn’t provide any nutritional value and only sets you up for future nutritional failure.
Article Courtesy: Andrew Steingrube