By Betty Murray
Don’t be fooled by the name. Diet soda—although calorie free and sugar free—is not healthy.
The calories and sugar in diet soda are replaced with other ingredients that contribute to weight gain, among other health issues. Studies have linked diet soda to an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, a group of symptoms that put you at risk for heart disease. Symptoms of metabolic syndrome include belly fat, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar.
One University of Minnesota study of nearly 10,000 adults found that even drinking just one diet soda a day is linked to a 34 percent increase in metabolic syndrome!
Diet soda has several other not-so-healthy side effects, including:
• Kidney problems — An 11-year-long Harvard Medical School study of more than 3,000 women found that drinking two diet sodas a day can double your risk of poor kidney health. The link is thought to be caused by the artificial sweeteners in diet soda.
• Obesity — Just when you thought you were drinking something to help you lose weight, a University of Texas Health Science Center study links diet soda to an increased risk of being overweight or obese. In fact, according to this study, drinking two or more diet sodas a day can increase your waistline by 500 percent! When you consume artificial sweeteners, your body is being tricked into thinking it’s consuming sugar, which causes more cravings and can lead to overeating.
• Cell damage — A chemical found in diet sodas under the names sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate is known to cause damage to the DNA in the mitochondria. The same preservative has been linked to hives, asthma, and other allergic conditions.
• Rotting teeth — Your mom was right. Drinking soda will rot your teeth! People who drink soda—diet and regular—have greater tooth decay, more missing teeth, and more fillings than people who steer clear of sodas altogether. Diet soda has a pH of 3.2, making it extremely acidic. Water has a pH of 7, while battery acid has a pH of 1. Soda is closer to battery acid on the pH scale than water. Let that sink in for a minute.
Kick Your Soda Habit with These Tips
There’s no way around it—soda is addictive. So if you want to kick your soda habit, you’re going to have to put some thought and effort into it. Here are a few tips:
• Don’t go cold turkey. Just like any other addictive substance, you’ve got to slowly wean yourself off of soda if you want to effectively kick the habit. Start by cutting out a few sodas each week. If you drink multiple sodas a day, cut it down to one/day. If you drink one/day, reduce your soda intake to three/week. Giving yourself time to adjust will help you sustain your new, healthy habit.
• Drink water first. Craving a soda? Drink a big glass of ice water first. If you’re craving soda because you are bored or thirsty, drinking water should do the trick. Flavoring your water with fresh fruit or cucumber slices may also help you overcome the soda cravings.
• Dilute it. Mixing soda with water can help with the weaning process. Drinking half-soda, half-water will help you stay hydrated, fill up on water, and cut the sweetness of soda, which can help break your addiction to your favorite bubbly beverage.
• Drink unsweetened tea. If it’s the caffeine you’re craving (and you don’t drink coffee) unsweetened tea is a great alternative. A cold glass of tea can be just as refreshing, and tea also comes with some health benefits of its own.
• Try a natural brand. There are some natural options to your favorite soda. Though more expensive, these are made with fewer artificial ingredients, often contain less sugar, and no high-fructose corn syrup. Some favorite natural soda brands are: Blue Sky and Grown Up Soda.
• Drink a fruit seltzer instead. For some people, it’s the carbonation they’re addicted to rather than the soda itself. If this is you, get your bubbly fix with a fresh fruit seltzer water instead of soda.
• Identify your soda triggers. Just like some people only drink alcohol in certain situations, others are “situational soda drinkers.” Have you noticed that you only drink soda when you eat out, or when you eat a particular food? Identify the triggers that may cause you to reach for a soda and avoid them until you’ve successfully adapted to new, healthier habits.
Remember, caffeine isn’t necessarily bad in and of itself. In fact, some studies have found that caffeine can actually boost weight gain. The problem is that many caffeinated beverages also contain a number of other ingredients—like large amounts of sugar and preservatives—that can wreak havoc on your health. If you need caffeine, try a hot herbal tea or a cup of black coffee instead.
Betty Murray, CN, HHC, RYT is a Certified Nutritionist & Holistic Health Counselor, founder of the Dallas-based integrative medical center, Wellness and founder of the Metabolic Blueprint wellness program. Betty’s nutrition counseling practice specializes in metabolic and digestive disorders and weight loss resistance. A master of the biochemistry of the body, Betty teaches her clients how to utilize nutritional interventions to improve their health. Betty is a member of the Institute of Functional Medicine and the National Association of Nutrition Professionals.