Q. I am 100 percent focused on losing weight to become healthier so I am trying to make better food choices throughout the day. I've been eating less food per meal and instead of drinking 3 or 4 sodas per day, I've changed over to diet sodas. Recently, a friend told me that diet sodas are worse for me than regular sodas. Is this true? Jeff, Schaumburg
A. Thanks for your question Jeff, as we know this is a very controversial topic. There are three things that should be addressed here. First, will drinking diet sodas instead of regular sodas really help you lose weight? Second, are diet sodas any more or less healthy than regular sodas? And third, should either of these options be part of a healthy diet geared toward losing weight?
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First, if we look at the calorie content of a regular soda versus a diet soda, there is clearly a caloric difference. A regular soda is higher in calories and loaded with simple carbohydrates such as sugar or high fructose corn syrup, both of which can spike insulin levels and may eventually cause obesity when consumed on a regular basis. So you would think that a diet soda that lacks simple carbohydrates would be healthier for you. But, according to research done by the University of Texas Health Science Center, the artificial sweetener in some diet sodas contains an amino acid called phenylalanine, which can trick your body into releasing insulin. So if you have low or normal blood sugar levels when you drink a diet soda, you may soon become hypoglycemic, eliciting a hunger response, and therefore you're more likely to reach for food. So in the end, we don't feel that diet sodas are doing much to help you lose weight.
Second, clearly diet soda doesn't contain sugar or high fructose corn syrup, which we know can lead to obesity and other health problems when consumed in high amounts. So from a health standpoint, you would think that diet sodas are a better option. But again, the artificial sweeteners found in most diet sodas have been shown to have many negative side effects according to research done by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Aspartame, for instance, is a neurotoxin that has been shown in some studies to cause damage to brain cells, which can in turn have many negative effects on the body. Now there is much controversy surrounding this artificial sweetener, but the bottom line is it has no nutritional value and it could very well harm you, especially if you're consuming it several times per day. So we would not recommend it in place of regular sodas.
Third, if you're focused on becoming healthier, why even include regular sodas or diet sodas in your diet at all? If you're truly looking to improve your health for the long haul, try replacing those drinks with something that you know will do good for your body rather than causing potential harm. Most of your fluids throughout the day should consist of clean filtered water. If you need more flavor, add a few small pieces of fruit to your water or try some coconut water. If you drink sodas for the caffeine, try drinking unsweetened teas or even coffee in moderation. Again, be sure that these drinks are not artificially sweetened as well. For our clients trying to lose weight and become healthier, we recommend no sodas of any kind in their diets.
So I hope this gives you an overview on why we don't recommend regular or diet sodas for any of our clients who are in your same situation. If you'd like to find out more information on this controversial topic, please talk to your doctor or do your own research from unbiased resources. For more nutritional tips, visit our blog at PushFitnessTraining.com or find us on Facebook.
• Joshua Steckler and Mark Trapp are co-owners of Push Fitness, a personal training studio in Schaumburg specializing in weight loss, muscle toning and nutrition. Contact them at PushFitnessTraining.com.