Saturday, February 9, 2013

The war against diet soda

I well remember a time when diet soda didn't exist. It's not that women weren't always on diets because they were. Or at least it seemed that way to my ten year old self with my yo-yo dieting mom. But artificial sweeteners hadn't been invented yet, I guess.

One of the first diet drinks I remember was Tab. It was sweetened with saccharine and it tasted kind of bitter. But we forced down the Tab because we were told that if we replaced our regular Coke with Tab that we'd save so many calories a week and that would lead to losing 10 pounds a year!

After a while we got used to it, too. I came to enjoy the bubbles and the crispness, in fact. I didn't lose 10 pound a year though. It didn't impact my weight at all. I wasn't the only one whose weight wasn't impacted, either.

But now, apparently, the same experts who told us to drink diet ida are telling us that it's evil. It causes obesity! It causes Type II diabetes!


Except they seem to forget that correlation is not causation. While they scramble to come up with reasons for why people who drink diet soda are fatter than people who don't and are more likely to have Type II diabetes, the media has run away with this data.

Did you know that drinking diet soda increases your risk of getting Type II diabetes by 33%! No, I d on't know that and neither does anyone else. People who drink diet soda are 33% more likely to have Type II diabetes but we don't know why.

One very likely explanation is that the population that drinks diet soda is heavily skewed towards the overweight and there has been shown to be a correlation between being overweight and Type II diabetes.

But what about that study that showed that the body reacts to artificial sweeteners just like it reacts to insulin? Isn't that a possible explanation? It is. Except most of the studies of insulin secretion and artificial sweeteners have been done on rats or mice or on very small samples of humans (like 20 to 40 people). In some studies, the artificial sweeteners did give the rats an insulin response but in others they did not.

When extended to humans, this response did not seem to happen. Thought it's misleading to say "artificial sweeteners" as if they were all basically the same. Even so, if you go down them one by one, and look at what data there is out there, it's not particularly compelling except when talking about sugar alcohols.

It is known that humans do have an insulin response to sugar alcohols. (Plus, they make me fart!) So... sugar alcohols are evil... Sweet 'n Low? Not so much.

Anyway, I'm not going to run out and start drinking diet soda. The bubbles bother me. Plus it tastes "chemically" to me now, just like it did when I first started drinking it. I do have one occasionally when there aren't other choices that please me, but it's pretty rare.

At the same time, I'm not going to jump on the "diet soda is evil" band wagon. I think the jury is still out on that one. Whatever the mechanism is that is causing the correlation between diet sodas and obesity and diet sodas and Type II diabetes, it's still unknown.
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