Q: Evidence is strong, do not consume sugar drinks. Is diet soda a better choice?

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A recent Facebook discussion raised a good question. One of the Fat-Burners, Brad, that took my accelerated class asked me to comment.

Q:  Evidence against full-sugar drinks is strong, consistent and universally negative. Evidence against diet sodas is weak, inconsistent and more reputable sources always say, “more research is needed.” If you have to drink soda, diet is probably the better choice. Is this true?

A: Great question! With any food study, there are always confounding factors. What I mean by that is when people consume any artificial sweetener (AS) there is variation in which sweetener is used in the study and how much of that sweetener is consumed. Additionally, what other foods and AS products are the study subjects consuming? Are there other foods in each individual’s diet that are influencing the results of the study?

Ugh! It’s so confusing, what you should you do?

My very short answer is to experiment yourself and decide how you feel and what is best for you. If you want to know what other people have decided, read on.

What could be bad about artificial sweeteners?

The three things most concerning about artificial sweeteners include:

     – Artificial sweeteners can cause an insulin response similar to, or greater than, sugar. Insulin (the fat-storing hormone) spikes cause an increase in fat-storing and the surge of insulin can cause a drop in blood sugar. The drop in blood sugar causes an increase in hunger. Not good for someone attempting to lose weight.

     – They can help fuel a sugar/sweet addiction. Some people have an addiction to sugar. Substituting something else (AS) that is sweet does not help someone overcome this sweet addition.

     – Artificial sweeteners are…artificial. Consuming packets, bottles or bags of man-made chemicals is likely not the best thing you can do for your gut bacteria and your long-term health.

Case studies

  1. D.B. is making progress towards becoming a Fat-Burning Machine. His habit was to have coffee, half-and-half and AS each morning. He tried various AS products, including Stevia, and still didn’t feel all that good – but couldn’t put his finger on it. He tried only ½-packet of AS and it still didn’t help. I asked him to try sugar for a week to see how he felt. Within two days he came back and let me know that 1 teaspoon of sugar in his morning coffee, rather than any AS product, made his headaches and dry mouth disappear. He did not notice an increase in appetite with regular sugar. For him, a small amount of sugar is a much better choice than AS. Over the course of a week, he may have one or two diet drinks – but other than that, he doesn’t consume any AS products.
  2. M.B. was consuming between six and 10 diet sodas per day, along with other products containing one or more AS. She felt that diet products were much better for her than consuming products with real sugar and the associated 100s of calories. Her impression was that products labeled with “zero calories” meant free-for-all consumption. Yet, she felt addicted. Long story shortened, she is working on retraining her taste buds. She feels she may be addicted to sweet-tasting foods or she may use them as a crutch for stress. (She consumes more diet sodas when she is stressed.) At this point, she is down to between two and three sodas per day. She feels that diet is a better option than 300 to 450 calories of sugary drinks. This is a step in the right direction for her and one day she hopes to drink no more than one diet drink per day.
  3. A.B. likes to have one soda per day. He has tried drinking regular soda rather than diet soda and he feels it makes him more hungry. He doesn’t notice the headaches that D.B. does and doesn’t seem to feel worse after consuming diet drinks. When he “must” have a sweet drink, he consumes a drink sweetened with an AS product.
  4. D.C. suspected that AS products were messing with her digestive system. She completely cut them out and says she feels 100% better. On the rare occasion (no more than once per week) that she drinks a soft drink it is the full-sugar kind.

One thing is certain. There is no evidence that artificial sweeteners are “good for you” and significantly improve health. As often as you possibly can, consume water rather than soda.

Whether or not you consume any diet soda product depends on your individual situation and where you are in your overall health and Fat-Burning Machine journey. Fat-Burning students have told me that after about three weeks of eating according to Fat-Burning Machine principles, they find they crave less sweet items and they can significantly cut, or eliminate, AS products from their diet.

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Gale Bernhardt