Sugar-free sodas, teas and sport drinks are marketed as the right choice for anyone trying to lose weight or control their diabetes. These diet drinks are normally flavored with artificial sweeteners like saccharine (Sweet N Low), sucralose (Splenda) or aspartame (Equal).
There has been a long-standing diet soda debate over whether they're healthier than regular soda or not. In the conventional nutritional world, which is primarily concerned with counting calories, diet drinks are encouraged as the preferred zero-calorie option. Diabetic nutritional classes typically educate patients to opt for the sugar-free options as the healthy alternative. The alternative health world wouldn't give the diet devil to their worst enemy.
Even in the medical literature there have been conflicting reports. One 2011 study actually showed improved blood sugar in slightly overweight, healthy individuals who consumed the artificially sweetened foods over ones containing the sucrose.
On the other hand, research has correlated a 66% increase risk of diabetes with consuming just 20 ounces of diet soda per week!
Recently a study from Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science further investigated the correlation between artificial sweeteners, weight gain and diabetes. The study, published in the scientific journal Nature, had some compelling findings that may explain the previous contradicting results:
- People consuming artificial sweeteners had overall higher blood sugars than those who rarely or never did. Some saw an increase in their blood sugars with just one week of consuming the fake sugars.
- Mice given the artificial sweeteners gained just as much weight and had higher blood sugars than the ones given regular sugar despite consuming less calories!
What's really fascinating about this study is what they did next. When the Israeli researchers transferred the gut bacteria of the mice and people fed the food with artificial sweeteners to mice who were not exposed, they too had increased blood sugars!
This study took into consideration the microbiome, the billions of beneficial bacteria living in the gut. The researchers discovered different microbiome patterns depending on what was consumed!
Because we all have different microbiomes with variations of different bacterial species, this could explain why some see an increase in diabetes and some don't.
The foods we eat impact our gut which in turn impacts our genes and our weight. I have written previously how the microbiome is the new frontier in understanding weight gain and disease. We are just beginning to understand this exciting field of research.
In summary, I would err on the side of caution when it comes to diet soda. Clinically, I have seen strong gut modulators like diet soda affect not only diabetics but chronic brain symptoms, fatigue and fibromyalgia symptoms.
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