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Diet Soda - Good Or Bad? Obesity, Addiction

It’s undeniable: soda has become part of modern day food culture and every day, millions upon millions of cups of sodas are drunk in the USA alone. Every cup of regular soda contains a significant amount of calories, which can contribute to weight gain and even cause adverse health effects. Thankfully, there is the low calorie or even zero calorie substitute: the diet soda. Many people regard diet soda as the “good” soda, but is it really all good?
First off, drinking a reasonable amount of soda in a day is ok and hasn’t been proven to bring any bad health effects. Drinking a regular glass or two is fine. Diet sodas seem to make people think that it is ok to drink loads more, since they are not consuming the same amount of calories anyway. Because of this, many people end up drinking 1-2 liters every day. The bad thing about it is that drinking too much soda whether regular or diet, still increases the risk of obesity. And obesity is linked to many chronic diseases including heart diseases and diabetes.

There is mounting evidence which points to diet soda being addictive. The cause is yet to be proven but experts theorize that the brain recognizes that it is being tricked when it comes to sugar content, thus it wants more and more. For instance in a study, patients cannot tell the difference between sugar laced water and artificially sweetened water. Based on an MRI however, the brain could. The reward centers on the brain lit up for both types, but it only lit up completely on true sugar. This leads scientists to believe that in order to make up for the sugar high, the brain commands the body to take in more diet soda. It’s like the brain saying “That’s not what I expected. Give me some more.”

"I don't think there is clear-cut evidence of biochemical dependence on diet soda, but my sense is that certainly people do become habituated to diet soda and dependent upon it," says Dr. Timothy Harlan of Tulane University. This addiction causes people to continue drinking diet soda even if they know that it is already causing adverse health effects.

Diet soda has also been linked to certain cancers as well as heart attacks and stroke. However, not enough evidence supports this and many claim that the study conducted which links the diseases to diet soda have many flaws. "Population-based studies provide some 'food for thought' but shouldn't be used as the basis of nutrition guides for individuals. This study would be another one that indicates more controlled studies are needed,” says Connie Diekman, a nutritionist from Washington University. Some believe that the stroke risk is associated with people who regularly drink diet soda’s poor dietary habits.

"Unfortunately, it may be that individuals with poor dietary habits do resort in some kind of calorie balancing and continue to eat high-calorie sweet foods but reduce their guilt by drinking diet soda," says Dr. Howard Weintraub from New York University. Dr. David Katz from Yale University adds: “"In my 20 years of clinical practice, patients who consume diet soda tend to have more of a sweet tooth; to get more sweet cravings; to eat more foods with added sugar; and to like and eat more processed food than patients who avoid both regular and diet soda.”

On the whole, diet soda is better than regular soda if taken in moderation. But in order to be sure that you’re staying healthy, experts recommend skipping any kind of sodas altogether. It is agreed that drinking plain water, natural fruit juices and other healthier alternatives is always a better choice than drinking sodas.