Diet sodas are among those 20th century inventions that ended up creating as many problems as they were intended to solve.
Although many of us love the sodas’ crisp, bubbly sweetness, medical experts have long warned us that they are proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing (or cans and bottles, in this case).
Though it is common knowledge that sugar-sweetened drinks raise a person's risk of Type 2 diabetes, a new study by French researchers at the Inserm institute suggests sugar-free diet drinks could also play a role.
The research, appearing this spring in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, shows a correlation between consumption of “light” or diet soda and increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. The study involved 66,118 women, whose beverage habits were tracked over 14 years.
By the end of the study period, 1,369 of the women were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
Keith Kantor, CEO of the natural foods company Service Foods, Inc., and a Ph.D. in nutritional science, points to other studies completed by Purdue University’s Ingestive Behavior Research and by the American Psychological Association as well as articles appearing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Huffington Post that reinforce the hidden dangers of artificially sweetened sodas.
“When your body gets a taste of what it thinks is sugar, it does several things,” explains Kantor. “It releases several enzymes and chemicals to prepare the digestive process, signaling the body that it is about to take in a lot of calories.
“When it turns out the body did not take in those expected calories, those digestive enzymes and juices are left with nothing to do and the body has to eliminate them. When you trick the system with the artificial sweeteners, the digestive process becomes very slow.”
Kantor further explains that when the “pancreas gets a sweet taste” of artificial sweeteners, it releases insulin and further disturbs the digestive function. Eventually, the body will not be able to break down sugar quickly enough, and insulin will release at a much slower rate, setting the stage for diabetes as the actual work of the insulin cannot take place.
Author Brenda Watson (www.renewlife.com/ ReNew Life), a noted expert on colons and digestive disorders, explains that artificially sweetened beverages can lead to an increased appetite for the real thing, as well as an unwanted jolt in insulin levels.
She says she believes that with the current diabetes epidemic, the timing of the French study couldn’t be more important.
Dr. Daisy Merey, a Palm Beach-based bariatric specialist who has authored numerous books on nutrition and fitness, stresses that consumers check labels for the presence of high-fructose corn syrup, even on some products labeled as “diet” or “light,” as the health risks of that common ingredient are becoming well known.
“As obesity incidence increases, so does occurrence of diabetes,” observes Merey. “This is why we’ve coined a new term, Diabesety. This is also why studies like this are so important for diabetes patients to take seriously.”
Not every one is in complete agreement with the Inserm study, however. Cheryl Marco, registered dietitian and certified diabetes education expert at Thomas Jefferson University, points out the Inserm study was “correlational, but not causative.”
In other words, the researches noted there was a higher incidence of diabetes, but they did not conduct a randomized trial where half the women were on a diet soda regimen and the other half on other beverages to track who developed diabetes and who did not.
“There could have been a bias in that these women were in a high risk” group “to start with,” she says. “However, there are dozens of other foods and drinks that have an effect on blood sugar, such as fruit, pasta, bread, pretzels and so on.”
Dr. Iris Shai, researcher of nutrition and chronic diseases at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, says the findings of this study are interesting and require additional attention and deeper research. However, like Marco, she points out the conclusions show an association from an observational study and not a direct effect.
“With all the careful statistical models performed, it is not easy to differentiate between drink patterns and a tendency toward preferred sweet foods intake,” she says.
Marco found it particularly interesting that the same medical journal (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) published another study on diet soda drawing the opposite conclusion. That study, involving 318 obese adults, revealed there was no negative effect from consuming diet soda in connection with diabetes.
However, Marco warns that diet soft drinks still may not be a dieter’s best friend.
One thing the various experts do agree upon pretty unanimously is that plain water may be the best diet drink out there.