What’s in the can? Diet soda may cause unexpected weight gain

By Kasey Minnick
November 3, 2006

“Pepsi. It’s the Cola” and “Light it up” are famous slogans between the Pepsi and Coca-Cola companies, which have been battling it out for the top spot as far back as most people can remember. But maybe not all of their products are what they say they are; Diet Pepsi and Diet Coke being two of them.

Diet Pepsi and Diet Coke have capitalized on the markets of people who require low sugar regimens, such as diabetics, athletes, people with other health conditions and those that want to lose weight.

Michael Kroener, a freshman marketing major, said, “I have diabetes and my doctor said diet soda is fine to drink. As a matter of fact, anything diet is good to drink with my illness. In the beginning, when I had to change my drinking habits, I had to get used to the taste of diet, but it’s not that bad now.”

John Sims, a sophomore undecided major, said, “I did hear someone say that diet soda is worse for you, but I drink it because I’m an athlete and I worry about the calories.”

With diet soda drinks, there is much debate over health issues. These beverages rely on aspartame, which has been blamed by scientists and medical professionals for causing serious problems such as brain tumors, brain lesions and lymphoma, when consumed in large quantities.

Aspartame was discovered in 1965 by chemist, James M. Schlatter. Schlatter was in the process of producing an anti-ulcer drug candidate when he licked his finger after synthesizing aspartame. He discovered the sweet taste and in an instant he knew he came onto something. Although this sweetener was not approved by the Food and Drug Administration right off the bat, the FDA later removed all restrictions from this sweetener in 1996 after studies showed that aspartame didn’t cause brain damage.

Jay McEvily, a sophomore accounting major, said, “I did drink diet soda until it started giving me real bad headaches. The soda did not only do this to me, but to other people I know as well.”

Aspartame’s attractiveness comes from the fact that it is roughly 180 times sweeter than sugar in typical concentrations. But maybe it wouldn’t be so attractive if drinkers knew the new studies made on this sweetener.

Sharon P. Fowler, MPH, and her fellow colleagues at the University of Texas Health Science Center, reported their data on diet soda at the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association in San Diego. “What was surprising was when we looked at people only drinking diet soft drinks, their risk of obesity was even higher,” Fowler said according to webmd.com.

Fowler’s team looked at eight years of data on 1,550 Mexican-American and Hispanic white Americans aged 25 to 64. For diet soft drink users, the risk of becoming overweight or obese was 36.5 percent for up to one-half can each day, 54.5 percent for one to two cans each day, and 57.1 percent for more than two cans each day according to webmd.com.

But then, on the other side of the spectrum, there are plenty of studies that show that artificial sweeteners in drinks can help keep the pounds off. Danish researchers asked 41 overweight people to supplement their diets with either sucrose or artificial sweetened drinks. Ten weeks later, the sucrose participants gained an average of three lbs., while the fake sweetener testers lost close to two lbs. Why did this happen?

Connie Diekman, RD, an American Dietetic Association spokesperson, said, “Calories you drink don’t help satisfy your appetite. Because you never compensate for the extra calories by eating less, you end up gaining weight.”

In the end, researchers say you can save between 140 and 150 calories for every 12-oz. can of regular soda you replace with a diet one, according to prevention.com.

Danielle Feole, a sophomore elementary education major, said, “If I was told that diet soda would make me gain weight, I would stay away from it. But I don’t know what the truth is, so I will drink the better tasting.”

Lauren DiCintio, also a sophomore elementary education major, said, “Yeah, I heard diet soda is worse for you than regular and doesn’t really help cut-down on pounds. I really don’t get how diet soda would make you gain weight either, but since it’s always in my house I will continue to drink it.”

Even though there are so many studies out there that give the public bad news about diet soda, there is one Cabrini student who will never remove it from her diet.

Katelyn Penrose, a junior elementary education major, said, “The reason why I love Diet Coke so much is because it gives the perfect combination of soda and caffeine. I know that it is not very healthy to drink. However, I love it so much that I don’t think I could give it up. Also, I have been drinking it forever so it’s something I can count on to quench my thirst.”

So, after there are many tests in favor and against diet sodas, the public may never know the truth behind the label. But until then, Penrose says with a laugh, “I try to balance my soda cravings out with milk and water, but it can be hard when all you want is a frosty Diet Coke from McDonalds.”

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Kasey Minnick

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