Despite the fact that consumption of soft drinks (soda) is directly linked to an increased risk of insulin resistance (metabolic syndrome), type II diabetes, and obesity, millions of people are still buying the sugary swill and consuming it with reckless abandon. As if weight gain and blood sugar abnormalities weren’t enough, soft drink consumption has been associated with the destruction of tooth enamel, heart disease, kidney stone formation, reproductive problems, and osteoporosis. It breaks my heart that parents continue to give this stuff to their children when the U.S. has the highest childhood obesity rate in the world!
It’s possible that educational efforts about the damaging effects of soft drinks are starting to work. Over the last decade, there has been a slight decline in both diet and regular soda sales, however, non-diet soda sales recently rose 1.4 % and still account for $77.4 billion in retail sales.
If you enjoy soda but have come to the realization that 25 teaspoons of added sugar per day are probably not a good idea, then the solution is simple; switch to diet soda, right? Wrong! We’ve known for years that the artificial sweeteners in diet soda do not impact blood sugar levels directly, but they can interfere with learned responses that contribute to controlling appetite and blood sugar levels. They also increase the number and activity of receptors that transport glucose from the gastrointestinal tract, thereby stressing blood sugar control mechanisms. And perhaps most alarming of all, artificial sweeteners disrupt the human gut microflora in a manner that promotes insulin resistance and glucose intolerance. In these ways, diet soda consumption is linked to the development of metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes, and obesity.
Metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes) is now an epidemic in our country. One of its physical manifestations is central visceral adiposity (belly fat), which results from hepatic lipogenesis and insulin resistance; both directly related to a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates. When you replace soft drinks with diet soft drinks and restrict overall sugar and carbohydrate consumption, you would expect to see a reduction in central visceral adiposity, but it’s not always the case. In people who continue to drink diet soda the belly fat often persists. Obviously, insulin is still elevated and active and influences glucose control mechanisms.
Diet soda is not all bad though; the hardworking men and women of law enforcement have found a great use for Coca-Cola. It’s incredibly effective at removing blood stains from the pavement! No joke.
Drink good clean water. If it worked for our ancestors 100 million years ago, it would work for us too!
Michael Chase, MS, NTP
Nutrition Science and Dietetics