by Marion Nestle
Jul 25 2007

Diet Sodas and Metabolic Risks?

The Framingham Heart Study has just released new results suggesting that people who drink one or more 12-ounce sodas a day have a greater chance of developing “multiple metabolic risk factors” such as obesity, high blood pressure (hypertension), high blood sugar (diabetes), or low HDL-cholesterol (the good kind). The story made headlines in USA Today and other publications because diet sodas–which have no calories–were associated with the same level of risk as that of sodas made with corn sweeteners. As might be expected, soda industry officials find this result ridiculous but I think it makes sense if you think of sodas–diet and not–as an indicator of poor dietary habits. Plenty of evidence suggests that many (although certainly not all) people who habitually drink sodas of any kind consume more calories, have worse diets, and are more likely to be overweight than people who do not. For some individuals, using artificial sweeteners helps maintain weight. But on a population basis, the huge increase in use of artificial sweeteners since the early 1980s has occurred precisely in parallel with rising rates of obesity. So lots of people must be making up for the calories they save in diet sodas by eating other junk foods. When it comes to food, I don’t care for anything artificial so I try to avoid artificial sweeteners as much as I can. And you?

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  • Eric

    The “I’ll have a Super Burger, Fries, Sundae,…and a Diet Coke” is almost a staple joke on TV these days; one that works so well because we all know people like that.

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  • I was not sure where to put this and this seemed the best topic. It is a copy of an article in the July 27, 2007 Los Angeles Times about bottled water and where it comes from.

    NEW YORK — PepsiCo Inc. will spell out that its Aquafina bottled water is made with tap water, a concession to the growing environmental and political opposition to the bottled water industry.

    According to Corporate Accountability International, a U.S. watchdog group, the world’s No. 2 beverage company will include the words “public water source” on Aquafina labels.

    “If this helps clarify the fact that the water originates from public sources, then it’s a reasonable thing to do,” said Michelle Naughton, a Pepsi-Cola North America spokeswoman.

    Pepsi’s Aquafina and Coca-Cola Co.’s Dasani are both made from purified water from public reservoirs, as opposed to Groupe Danone’s Evian or Nestle’s Poland Spring, so-called spring waters shipped from specific locations that the firms say have notably clean water.

    Coca-Cola said it would start posting online information about the quality-control testing it performs on Dasani by the end of summer or early fall.

    “Concerns about the bottled-water industry, and increasing corporate control of water, are growing across the country,” said Gigi Kellett, director of the “Think Outside the Bottle” campaign, which encourages people to drink tap water.

    San Francisco’s mayor banned city employees from using city funds to buy bottled water when tap water was available. Ann Arbor, Mich., passed a resolution banning commercially bottled water at city events.

    Critics charge that the bottled water industry adds plastic to landfills, uses too much energy by producing and shipping bottles across the world and undermines confidence in the safety and cleanliness of public water supplies, all while much of the world’s population is without access to clean water.

    But industry observers said such opposition was unlikely to drain U.S. sales of bottled water, which reached 2.6 billion cases in 2006, according to Beverage Digest. The industry newsletter estimated that U.S. consumers spent about $15 billion on bottled water last year.

    “Consumers have an affection for bottled water. It’s not an issue of taste or health, it’s about convenience,” the newsletter’s publisher, John Sicher, said.

    Dave Kolpak, a portfolio manager at Victory Capital Management, said the environmental objections would have little effect on the bottom line for Pepsi or Coke, although he acknowledged that it could slow the market’s growth.

    “Pepsi and Coke do not make a lot of profit” on bottled water, Kolpak said.

  • Amy

    Marion, thanks for being a voice of good food sense! As I try to learn about healthy eating habits, it is wonderful to have intelligent guidance from people like you.

    I finally convinced myself to give up soft drinks (esp diet) for health reasons as well as emotional/psychological ones. Mainly, I felt achy all over and fatigued and a holistic doctor suggested eliminating as many artificial foods as possible. I thought soda was a great no-value food (full of “suspect” ingredients) to get rid of first. In “quitting,” I realized how psychologically dependent I had become–just like a smoker quitting cigarettes! Yet, after just a few weeks, I felt physically healthier–no more achy joints (at all!) and my weight seemed to drop naturally. Wow. Now I see all around my office building the vicious “subliminal” advertising–images of people in meetings, smiling and laughing, each one with a can or bottle of soda. I had never “seen” those before, but I am sure they had done their work on me in the past. I am scared by how addicted I was to something as silly as soft drinks! It is strange to me that alcohol companies have to have slogans like “drink responsibly,” but the soda companies can run ramshackle over us all–raking in billions of dollars–without hardly anyone looking up to notice that something serious is wrong.

  • Thanks for this great blog Marion. I am a fan of yours and recommend your books in my classes.
    I have heard that the intense sweet flavor of artificial sweetners signals the body that there are a lot of carbohydrates coming. Since the diet soft drink provides none, a craving for tham may be stimulated – hence the weight gain associated with sodas, diet or not.
    Have you heard this explanation before?

  • Toni

    Hi, Marion – just something I heard today that really concerns me. I spoke to a very dear friend who said that she went to the doctor because she thought that something serious was wrong with her – cancer? MS? ???? She had no energy, and her body could not allow her to keep up with her work.

    The culprit? Something added in the diet sodas (which she consumed 2-3x a day) had affected her metabolism. The doctor said her symptoms were all in her head. However, my friend’s son saw an article in one of his college’s magazines, recognized the same symptoms that his Mom was having, and sent her the article.

    She’s given up the diet sodas, and is 50% back to normal right now – after only about a month. That is good news.