Diet soda: Not harmful, but no silver bullet for weight loss

Diet sodas are an alternative to high-sugar soft drinks and sugar-laden beverages, especially for those trying to manage their weight or blood sugar levels. Carbonated water, low-calorie sugar substitutes, flavours, caffeine, citric and phosphoric acid are main ingredients in most diet sodas. Widespread use of diet sodas seems to be coinciding with the growing epidemic of obesity and diabetes.

There are also concerns regarding the safety of diet drinks. Do artificial sweeteners and diet sodas actually help reduce weight? Epidemiological data suggests the contrary. Several large scale prospective studies found a positive correlation between low-calorie sugar substitutes and weight gain. The San Antonio Heart Study examined 3,682 adults over an eight-year period during 1980s. Drinkers of artificially sweetened beverages consistently had higher BMIs (body mass index) at the follow-ups. Similar results were reported in other studies. Weight loss is attributed to calorie restriction.

A study conducted on over 6,000 individuals in US published in the journal Diabetes Care in 2009 reported that daily consumption of at least one diet soda was associated with significantly greater risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Another recent population-based cohort study published in Journal of General Medicine reported increased incidence of heart disease with daily consumption diet sodas.

Artificial sweeteners may increase a desire to indulge in sweets and more high-calorie foods.

According to EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), aspartame may affect appetite and fullness, but there is insufficient evidence to substantiate it. It concludes that aspartame does not affect appetite, hunger and food intake.

Those who consume a lot of these drinks may miss out on essential nutrients, micronutrients and further diminish their nutritional status.

Diet sodas also contain advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs can lead to several diseases and accelerate ageing. Continuous intake of these compounds contributes to excessive accumulation into body tissues, which suppresses the immune system and resistance to diseases.

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