It’s a warm evening in NYC. My son and I have just arrived at a restaurant. A good meal awaits because … well … I’m a foodie and won’t waste a meal on the mundane. The first thing we do is order something to drink, of course. I almost cringe thinking: DON’T DO IT, DON’T DO IT … But he did it. AGAIN. He ordered Diet Coke®.
I wanted to snatch it out of his hands, as always. I wanted to lecture him, one more time, about the dangers of the artificial sweeteners lurking therein. But does he listen to his mother? Of course not. Like many young rebellious men, he listens to anyone BUT his mother. My hope is that he end ups with a woman who knows enough to keep him away from this stuff, because to her he’ll listen. 🙂
Let me get straight to the point – diet soda is NOT a healthy alternative to regular soda. In fact, it’s not healthy, period. Please stop drinking it.
Why is it so bad? Because it contains artificial sweeteners. You’ve heard the names: Splenda® (sucralose), Equal® and NutraSweet® (aspartame), Sweet’n Low® (saccharin), and Neotame (NutraSweet’s latest).
I hear the protests. But Dr. Inna, diet soda is keeping the pounds off ─ that’s got to be healthy, right? My dears, nothing is further from the truth. As American consumption of “zero calorie” artificial sweeteners started rising in the 1990s, so did the average body mass index (BMI) of the US population. Coincidence? Or not?
According to the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine (June 2010), in 1990, the percentage of the U.S. population having a BMI over 30 (the definition of obesity) was 26.2%. By 2007, that percentage rose to 41.3%. When it comes to diet, nothing hijacks your health as efficiently as artificial sweetener. Simply put, it’s killing us.
So what is so bad about artificial sweetener? Does it have a high glycemic index? And what is that “high glycemic index,” anyway? What it’s not is how sweet a product tastes or how many actual sugar molecules are present. Rather, glycemic index is the quantified ability of a food to raise sugar levels in your bloodstream. Consider that neither white rice nor white bread tastes particularly sweet. In fact, some white-rice dishes taste downright salty. Yet, these are examples of foods with high glycemic index.
We readily metabolize foods with high glycemic index into glucose. These foods significantly and rapidly raise blood glucose levels. Overconsumption of these high-glycemic carbohydrates can wreak havoc in the body, leading to the overproduction of insulin, insulin resistance, diabetes, and a host of metabolic derangements.
But glycemic index is only part of the problem. The bigger problem with artificial sweeteners is their particular chemical composition and the fact that we lack specialized metabolic pathways to process these artificial sugars. So we store them as fats. Let me explain how.
When we eat something sweet, our mouth senses the sweetness and sends signals to the brain, which transmits messages to other parts of the body that sugar calories are on the way. The pancreas gets the signal and releases insulin. The brain releases dopamine, which, in turn, stimulates the release of leptin, an appetite-regulating hormone that informs the brain that we are “full” once a certain amount of calories have been ingested.
So, hormones like leptin and insulin are secreted and are ready and waiting for those calories to arrive. All well and good except that the artificial sweetener has tricked our body; no calories are coming. With nothing arriving to deactivate those activated hormones, they go haywire.
But that’s only the half of it. Our bodies evolved to relate sweetness to calories; that is, sweeter means more calories. Artificial sweeteners are hundreds to thousands of times sweeter than normal sugar. So not only are we tricked into thinking calories are coming when they’re not, but that lots of calories are coming (due to the perceived sweetness of the artificial sweetener). Our body therefore produces way more insulin than it otherwise would in response to a similar quantity of sugar. When insulin runs high and unchecked, it runs amok, turning everything it finds into tiny globules of fat, which are stored throughout the body.
And that is why a low-calorie drink containing artificial sweetener causes greater metabolic derangement than a high-calorie drink containing normal sugar.
In light of increasing evidence that many modern diseases are metabolic in nature, I believe we should ban artificial sweeteners from the market. But until that time comes, please stop consuming products like diet soda, containing artificial sweeteners.
Questions? Give me a holler! No question is ever too odd to ask Dr. Inna!
So very truly yours,