Sweetened drinks including regular soft drinks, fruit drinks, sweetened teas, usually contain a significant amount of calories, sugar, or high fructose corn syrup. Adding just one of these drinks to your diet every day can add 54,750 extra calories in a year enough to make you gain 7 kg. Sweetened drinks may lead to weight gain because liquid calories do not increase satiety, therefore people do not compensate for the calories by eating less overall.
For those of us trying to lose weight, it may be tempting to start consuming diet drinks, which have no calories but still contain some flavour. But, diet soft drinks may not be the weight loss solution we have been looking for in the long-run. Artificial sweeteners found in drinks include sucralose (Splenda), saccharine (Sweet n’ Low), and aspartame (Equal or Nutrasweet).
Several long-term studies have shown connections between increased diet soft drink consumption, weight gain, and metabolic syndrome. The MESA study found that those who consumed greater than one serving of diet soft drink daily were more at risk of metabolic syndrome (a cluster of symptoms including abdominal obesity and glucose intolerance) by 36% than those who did not consume any soft drink at all regardless of calorie intake or other factors. Those who consumed diet drinks had a 67% increase in risk for type 2 diabetes.
Artificial sweeteners may trigger receptors in the tongue, which are meant to identify sweet-tasting foods, even those that do not contain calories. The receptors trigger the body’s natural response to sugar which is to release insulin. When there is insulin released without calories, this may throw off the body’s natural response to insulin, possibly leading to insulin resistance.
Part of the connection between diet soft drink consumption and weight gain may also be related to our perception of how many calories we are actually saving. An average regular soft drink has between 120-150 calories, which you can save by drinking diet soft drinks. But, many people go overboard and believe they are saving many more calories, therefore they eat significantly more than they normally would. This skewed perception of the actual number of calories saved may be part of the reason we see people who drink diet soft drinks gaining weight.
Alternatives to Diet Soft Drinks
Based on current research, it is probably best to avoid or significantly limit your consumption of diet soft drinks. If you must have something sweet, some good low-calorie choices include: Stevia, xylitol, raw honey, or date sugar. Even though these may be “healthier” choices, they will still add additional carbohydrates to your diet or may influence your insulin levels.
The best thing to do when trying to cut back on sugar is to break the addiction. Once you stop eating foods high in concentrated sugar, you will begin to appreciate the sweet taste of fruit or other natural sugars. Start drinking more water. You can even flavour your water by adding fruits such as orange slices or strawberries to it. There is no need to drink diet soft drinks or any type of sweetened drink as water is really the optimal and healthiest option.