Snap! Pop! Fizz! Pour! These are the typical sounds we hear when we open up that can of diet soda. Yes: the calorie-free drink with a fizzle. How healthy are these carbonated flavored drinks for us? And can these drinks contribute to our waistline even though they have zero calories? Let’s take a look at two recent studies.

The first study, the San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging at the School of Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio monitored 474 people for ten years who drank two or more diet sodas a day. The study found that diet soda drinkers had a 70% greater increase in their waist size in comparison to people who didn’t drink diet soda! As many of us already know, an increase in waist size can be a precursor for increased risk of diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic conditions. So what is it with the diet soda that was so detrimental to our health?

The second study, conducted by Dr. Gabriel Fernandes, gave more insight to the increased waistline theory as the researchers analyzed 40 diabetes-prone mice that were exposed to aspartame put into their chow. Three months passed with one group of mice eating food with both aspartame and corn oil and another group of mice just eating food with corn oil. After the three months, the aspartame group of mice had elevated blood sugar levels in the body and decreased insulin levels. This is what causes people to get diabetes over time after their body cannot adequately lower blood sugars due to lack of insulin production.  

So moral of this story? More research is definitely needed on humans regarding how aspartame and diet sodas can affect our blood sugars and our waistlines. However, in the interim, with all the processed food and drinks being sold full of the many chemicals and synthetically developed food ingredients, isn’t it just better to try to eat or drink something with a natural ingredient? Do you really NEED that diet soda? For a quick caffeine fix, a simple cup of plain tea or coffee (no added sugar or creams) can do the trick and not affect our waistline. So the recommendation is to kick that diet soda habit. If you still need the fizz in your life, try a sparkling water. It does the carbonation trick without the waistline question.

Sarah Koszyk, MA, RD, is a nutrition coach at Eating Free who cooks with love and loves to eat.

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