It is rare to find anyone in the health community saying something nice about soda. Even diet soda has a bad reputation with the health-conscious. But given the massive amount of soda consumed every year, doesn't it make sense to encourage people to drink diet soda?
Soda is a big business, $75 billion big. The average person in the U.S. drinks more than 700 servings of sodas in a year. About half of us drink it every day. That’s a lot of soda.
Sugary soft drinks are associated with type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome, liver disease, cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance. There is nothing good to be said about that. The artificial sweeteners first used to produce diet sodas were problematic, too. They were associated with all sorts of health problems in lab rats, and possibly even people. Now, safer alternatives make diet or zero-calorie sodas safe, if not delicious.
Does it make sense to shift from sugary sodas to zero-calorie sodas? A recent research study out of the Harvard Medical School followed teenagers for a year. One group drank sugar-sweetened soda and the other group drank zero-calorie soda. That was the only intentional difference between the groups. After a year, their weights were compared. The zero-calorie soda group had gained about four pounds less than the sugar-sweetened group. Four pounds. This was attributed exclusively to drinking diet soda.
One possible reason for the weight difference is how our body reacts to sugar-sweetened soda compared to sugar-free soda. A second bit of research by the Aarhus University Hospital compared people who drank water, milk, sugar-free soda and sugar-sweetened soda. They found that people who drank sugar-sweetened soda felt hungrier and as a result ate more food. The experience of people drinking sugar-free soda matched that of people drinking water.
So it seems that drinking zero-calorie soda has multiple benefits. For one, it eliminates a prime source of “empty” calories. And since sodas can represent up to a third of our sugar consumption, this is a material change for the better. Second, drinking zero-calorie sodas seems to avoid triggering increased hunger like sugar-sweetened soda does.
Thirsty? It’s best to drink water. Thirsty after exercise? Drink low-fat chocolate milk. Crave a soda? Drink a sugar-free version. You will be glad that you did.