Millions of people drink diet sodas thinking they are doing something good for their health. Clearly, if something has zero calories it must be helping you lose weight, right?
This is a common misconception that can lead to serious, even fatal, diseases, says a top cardiologist.
“People don’t lose weight by drinking diet soda,” said Chauncey Crandall, M.D. “On the contrary, diet soda increases your risk of a number of deadly diseases, including heart attack, diabetes, stroke, metabolic syndrome, and more.”
The problem is that diet soft drinks seem to spur people to eat more, says Dr. Crandall, who heads the cardiac transplant program at the world-renowned Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic.
A new study confirms this paradox. Writing in the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, Susan E. Swithers, a Purdue professor of psychological sciences and a behavioral neuroscientist, says that the high-intensity artificial sweeteners used to flavor diet soda – saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, and others – may signal the body to eat more. She suggests that diet soda interferes with the body's learned responses, driving it to eat more calories when it doesn’t get them from the sweet drinks.
The long-held assumption was that fewer calories meant less weight gain. But, according to Swithers’ research, artificial sweeteners confuse the body's natural ability to manage calories based on whether something tastes caloric. The body responds to a drink that is extremely sweet but has no calories by craving high-calorie foods or drinks.
“For years, I’ve observed patients who were morbidly obese drinking diet soda, but they remained obese,” said Dr. Crandall, author of the Heart Health Report
. “Like others, I figured that this was because they thought diet drinks made them feel justified in eating fattening foods. They would drink a diet soda and feel that made it OK to eat a cheeseburger. This new study suggests there is more to it than that.
“Diet soda seems to work in the brain to compel people to eat more.”
Research shows that as little as one diet soda a day can cause weight gain and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a collection of medical conditions that sharply hikes heart disease risk.
“It’s a vicious cycle,” says Dr. Crandall. “On one hand, the brain recognizes the taste of something sweet, but there aren’t any corresponding calories to go with it, so the body becomes confused. As a result, the brain directs the body to seek increased calories, which results in overeating, weight gain, and the increased risk of deadly disease.”
Diet soda poses yet another risk: A new study in the journal Dentistry found the acidity in no-cal soft drinks can damage teeth as badly as methamphetamine or crack cocaine. “The bottom line is that diet soda can rot your teeth and it can rot your brain as well,” said Dr. Crandall.
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