On Sunday, I went over to a friend’s house for a marathon board-gaming session. I ate too much home-made chili (Will is from Texas) and drank too much ginger ale.
“Do you have any diet coke?” I asked before choosing the soda.
“No,” said Will. “And besides, that stuff is awful. It’s worse for you than regular soda!“
“Come on,” I said. “I know it’s bad, but worse than regular soda?” I was thinking of the two giant diet cokes I’d had with my greasy hamburger a couple days before. I was thinking of how I used to drink two or three diet sodas every day.
“I’m serious,” he said. “That stuff will give you diabetes. Look it up.” And so I did. Turns out Will was telling the truth. Sort of.
Diet drinks and obesity
In 2005, Sharon Fowler and her colleagues from the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio presented eight years of research data that explored the link between obesity risk and soft drinks. According to the WebMD summary of the study:
Fowler’s team looked at seven to eight years of data on 1,550 Mexican-American and non-Hispanic white Americans aged 25 to 64. Of the 622 study participants who were of normal weight at the beginning of the study, about a third became overweight or obese.
For regular soft-drink drinkers, the risk of becoming overweight or obese was:
- 26% for up to 1/2 can each day
- 30.4% for 1/2 to one can each day
- 32.8% for 1 to 2 cans each day
- 47.2% for more than 2 cans each day.
For diet soft-drink drinkers, the risk of becoming overweight or obese was:
- 36.5% for up to 1/2 can each day
- 37.5% for 1/2 to one can each day
- 54.5% for 1 to 2 cans each day
- 57.1% for more than 2 cans each day.
For each can of diet soft drink consumed each day, a person’s risk of obesity went up 41%.
Obviously, there’s a difference between correlation and causation. This study is not meant to imply that diet soda causes obesity, just to point out that diet soda consumption is a “marker” for the condition.
More recently, researchers have reported a correlation between diet soda and metabolic syndrome, which the Mayo Clinic describes thusly:
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Having just one of these conditions — increased blood pressure, elevated insulin levels, excess body fat around the waist or abnormal cholesterol levels — isn’t diagnosed as metabolic syndrome, but it does contribute to your risk of serious disease. If more than one of these conditions occur in combination, your risk is even greater.
Basically, metabolic syndrome describes risk factors for diabetes and heart disease. According to The New York Times, this recent research indicates:
The one-third who ate the most fried food increased their risk by 25 percent compared with the one-third who ate the least, and surprisingly, the risk of developing metabolic syndrome was 34 percent higher among those who drank one can of diet soda a day compared with those who drank none.
Of course, the best solution is to forego pop altogether. Diet soda leads is associated with obesity and metabolic syndrome. Regular soda is dense with calories. Water has none of these drawbacks.
I did a good job of sticking to only water for a couple of weeks, but I’ve allowed myself to slip. I find that when I do the water-only thing, I feel better, weight-loss is easier, and I make better choices all around.