We've all seen the headlines claiming that "Diet Soda Raises Diabetes Risk!" Even the American Diabetes Association is touting how diet sodas can lead to metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. But that claim — and other health claims like it — are also frequently debunked or dismissed. For those of us already living with diabetes (especially type 1), does it even matter if diet sodas might cause type 2?
Well... since March is National Nutrition Month, we're taking a look at some issues around what PWDs consume. And a lot of us consume a lot of diet soda, let's face it.
These drinks are a mainstay for many of us PWDs thanks to their zero affect on our blood sugars. But there may still be cause for concern over some other important health issues.
Right off the bat we should note that research into diet soda consumption and the stuff in them is still in its infancy. Some studies say it's bad and other studies say that it's... well, not exactly good, but not as bad as some think. Here's what we found and we'll leave the final judgment up to you:
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Heart Health Risks + More
If you think you're off the hook with the whole "diet soda might be bad for you" debate just because you've already got diabetes, think again! Research now indicates that those who consume diet soda daily are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. According to data presented at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference in 2011, researchers studied 2,564 participants and found those who drank diet soda every day were at a 48% higher risk of having a stroke or other vascular incident than those who didn't drink it at all. As we've shared in our 411 series on diabetes complications, cardiovascular issues are nothing to mess around with when you have diabetes (of either type!).
Now, this doesn't necessarily show causality, as Dr. Hannah Gardener, one of the researchers at the University of Miami, explained. Further studies, she says, are needed to show what exactly about diet soda is causing cardiovascular disease in these patients. But research would indicate that diet sodas are not necessarily the best daily beverage choice for us PWDs, despite their null effect on blood sugars.
Diet soda might not contain a PWD's nemesis, Sugar, but it does contain sodium, phosphate, and usually caffeine (unless you make sure to get caffeine-free). Phosphate in high doses can have a negative effect on the health of your bones. Sodium and caffeine can cause dehydration, making you more thirsty, making you drink more diet soda, causing more dehydration... you see where this is going?
Diet Soda and Weight Gain
Weird as it sounds, research seems to confirm that there is a significant correlation between drinking diet sodas and weight gain. There's that word again, correlation, so it's difficult to say that diet soda causes weight gain, but the two do seem to show up in pairs far more often than you'd think.
A 2009 study in the journal Diabetes Care offers some suggestions as to why this connection occurs: 1) diet sodas may increase our desire and then consumption of "sugar-sweetened, energy-dense beverages/foods," i.e. our bodies react by craving more food, or 2) drinking these beverages may "disrupt consumers' ability to accurately estimate energy intake and remaining energy needs," i.e. we lose the ability to estimate how much food we actually need. On the other hand, some experts think that many folks who drink a lot of diet soda are already overweight and are drinking diet soda to lose weight, and therefore are already at risk for hypertension, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.
A bizarre thing worth noting is that in this study, which looked at folks who drank diet soda only versus those who drank regular soda only (as well as folks who drank both), researchers found that those who drank primarily diet soda were likely former smokers and had higher fasting blood sugar, blood pressure, and larger waistlines. They also were likely to have metabolic syndrome (sort of a pre-curser for type 2 diabetes). Those who drank regular soda were more likely to smoke and also eat more carbohydrates, but ironically, they were less likely to have type 2 diabetes or high cholesterol. Huh?
To Drink or Not To Drink
At the end of the day, all these studies really show are correlations in lifestyle habits, not necessarily cause-and-effect. We're not here to give medical advice, but the folks at Joslin Diabetes Center seem to think drinking diet soda in moderation is A-OK for now — moderation being the key word (are you listening, Scotty J?)
Nora Saul, a CDE and Manager of Nutritional Education, writes on Joslin's blog, "If you decide to drink diet soda, do so in moderation and be careful of calories coming from other sources. And, if it's a choice between regular soda and diet soda for people with diabetes, the diet soda still wins, at least until we have some conclusive proof that it is dangerous."
Quitting the Good Stuff
It's no secret that the DOC is addicted to diet soda. Some of us are card-carrying members of the Diet Coke Lifetime Fan Club. But if the risk for cardiovascular problems and the chemical ingredients are enough of a reason for you to decide to call it quits, how do you do it? Some folks actually claim that drinking diet soda can be come a full-fledged addiction!
It's true that the addiction isn't quite as severe or health-damaging as nicotine, but research shows that the caffeine and the routine of drinking soda can really hook someone.
There are various tips and methods for breaking any addiction. Unfortunately, unlike cigarettes, there's no Diet Coke-patch, but here are a few suggestions that might help:
- Go cold turkey... or taper down. Be sure you pick the approach that fits your personality, or you know this is going nowhere.
- Replace it with another beverage. Easier said than done, right? But isn't it true that you often reach for the diet soda just because you're thirsty? For some people (including myself), water can "taste" bad, so try using flavored water packets like Crystal Light Pure (made with Stevia) or squeeze some lemon in. Or try drinking iced tea? If you're craving the bubbly (carbonation), try substituting soda water or mineral water for regular tap water. It can give you the sensation that you're drinking something "more."
- Arm yourself for withdrawal. If you're relying on diet soda for your caffeine fix, you may need to pop an ibuprofen to quell the headache. And go to bed earlier.
Do I sound like your mom yet?
OK, so has anyone out there successfully cut diet sodas out of your life yet? Amy's pretty addicted, but I've managed to do OK by just not keeping it in the house. So if you managed to quit, we'd like to know how did it... Or are you simply a die-hard fanatic?