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Study finds diet soda as bad as regular

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Diet does not make a difference, at least when it comes to metabolic syndrome, a new study has found.

Metabolic syndrome, which puts people at greater risk of Type 2 diabetes, stroke and other heart-related diseases, is characterized by several risk factors. Someone with multiple risk factors, which includes excessive fat tissue around the abdomen, resistance to insulin and high blood pressure may have metabolic syndrome.

In the Aug. 24 issue of Circulation, a medical journal that focuses on heart disease and related studies, the Framingham Heart Study, a project of the Massachusetts-based National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute, published its results of their most recent study. The project, in conjunction with Boston University, found that diet soda, with its sugar-free and often calorie-free formulas, might still contribute to an increase of metabolic risk factors in middle-age adults.

Previous studies have already linked an increase in obesity and diabetes in teenagers and young adults to the consumption of regular soda, but the Framingham study is the first to look for the effects of all sodas, both regular and diet, on middle-age adults.

Studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that soda, diet or otherwise, is not any better for you or your body. A Swedish study completed in June 2005 found that sweetened food of various kinds, including soft drinks, led to an increased rate of pancreatic cancer in patients who had no previous diagnosis of cancer or history of diabetes. More than 75,000 patients were used in the study, with ages ranging from 45 to 85 years old.

When the majority of college students are in their 20s, why should they care about the health effects of soft drinks on middle-age adults?

“For most college students right now, the number one issue is the additional calories the soda provides without any nutrient value,” said Ellen Bauersfeld, a dietician at the Klotz Student Health Center.

Beverages with extra calories do not appease drinkers’ appetites anymore than those without calories. Thus, when you drink soda, you are not going to eat less than you normally do. Furthermore, the calories from soda are pure sugar calories not providing any additional health benefits.

“Many students are not aware of how quickly the additional calories add up,” said Bauersfeld. A single 20-ounce bottle of Pepsi contains 250 calories, so two bottles a day has the potential to add up to a pound a week. Sodas like Sierra Mist or non-carbonated options like Lipton Brisk Iced Tea are not much better. One 20-ounce bottle of Sierra Mist contains 240 calories, while the lemon-flavored iced tea contains 210 calories and the raspberry-flavored beverage contains 220 calories.

It is that additional weight gain that can have a greater effect on health and make people more susceptible to things like metabolic syndrome. One of the risk factors of metabolic syndrome is excessive weight gain. It may be difficult for college students to change their calorie intake as they become older and their bodies change. This means studies that focus on middle-age adults developing metabolic syndrome after years of consuming soda will affect young people as well in the near future, but the effects might be far worse.

A zero-calorie soda might sound nice, but compared to a beverage free of sodium, sweeteners, or phosphorous, it’s not the healthiest choice you could make, whether you are snacking at the movie theater or simply enjoying a refreshing drink on a hot day. There’s also the added health risks associated with carbonated beverages such as dental concerns or, for many women, the increased risk for osteoporosis.

There’s a theory that sweetener in diet soda makes you want to eat more sweets, Bauersfeld said, though she is careful to emphasize that it’s only a theory. Those theories point out that despite the increasing availability of sweeteners such as saccharin, aspartame and sucralose, there are still increasing numbers of people who are obese. But there are a variety of explanations as to why that may be, including the fact that overweight people may be using artificial sweeteners to help maintain their diet rather than the artificial sweeteners somehow provoking people into eating more calorie-ridden foods with pure sugar in them.

A wide variety of health-related studies focusing on the affects of everyday food from cereals to sodas have caused many people to become more concerned about what they are putting in their bodies. Many people have become avid label readers, avoiding foods with such taboo ingredients as trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. In an effort to “reinvent” soda so it’s not classed among “food and beverages to avoid,” the two major soft drink bottlers, PepsiCo and the Coca-Cola Company, will introduce new “fortified” versions of their famed diet drinks, Pepsi with Diet Pepsi Max and Tava and Coca-Cola with Diet Coke Plus.

Diet Pepsi Max, with ginseng and additional caffeine, is less of a “fortified soft drink” and more of a potential rival for energy drinks such as Red Bull. Tava will contain vitamins B3, B6 and E, and chromium. Diet Coke Plus will contain niacin, vitamins B6 and B12, magnesium and zinc.

“Companies love to dress up junk food and make it more appealing,” Bauersfeld said. “The small amounts of vitamins and minerals (in new soft drinks) are not enough to drastically make a change in your diet. It’s better to get those vitamins and minerals from actual food sources.”

If people are to get the most of what they are putting into their bodies, they need to know how tread Nutrition Facts labels. The Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition offers a variety of resources on how to know what all those numbers, percentages and abbreviations mean. The center also recommends consulting a doctor before drastically changing a diet plan.

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