The Diet Soda Misconception

There are many people that believe obesity is largely caused by calories in versus calories out.  We have previously discussed the notion that a calorie is not a calorie and therefore we must look at the macronutrients such as carbohydrates to better understand obesity and weight gain.

In addition rather than simply looking at carbohydrates, evidence has shown that it is actually insulin levels that may be the fundamental culprit in weight gain.  So perhaps, it is not the sugar and carbohydrates that we previously focused so much attention on.

By now most of us are aware of how much refined sugar most sodas contain.  One 20oz bottle of regular soda has 240 calories, but more frightening is 65g of sugar carbs.  Logic tells us we should switch to diet sodas that have less calories and less sugar in the hopes of losing weight.

But I have bad news… The scientific evidence suggests otherwise!

What is insulin and how does it affect body weight

Insulin is a hormone that is released by your pancreas in response to ingested carbohydrates such as rice, bread and other sugars.  Carbohydrates are then broken down into glucose (blood sugar) and insulin quickly acts to move this glucose from circulation into our cells.  Some of this glucose is also then stored as fat.  By constantly eating carbohydrates with a high sugar diet, our body constantly pumps out insulin which leads to a condition known as hyperinsulinemia.

Artificial Sweeteners Raise Insulin Levels 

Many of us like to focus on short-term weight loss by controlling how many calories we take in.  We try caloric restriction, intermittent fasting, low-carb diet and other strategies to decrease our calories.  In doing so, we often miss the big pictur. In order to effectively manage our weight on a long-term basis we must focus our attention on controlling insulin levels.

While it is true that diet sodas do contain less calories and less sugar than their sugary counterparts, artificial sweeteners are not as benign as you may think.  Artificial sweeteners may have little effect on blood sugar and blood glucose, but aspartame (key component in Coke Zero) has been shown to raise insulin levels even higher than regular sugar. 

Artificial Sweeteners Make you Hungry

Sugar is perhaps one of the most addicting substances on the planet.  Science has shown the brain’s response to sugar may be even stronger than its response to narcotics and other controlled substances.  One way we try to satisfy this craving is to ingest artificial sweeteners but in reality it has the opposite effect.  When you eat something sweet that does not have any calories your brain triggers an incomplete sense of reward.  This this will then cause you to seek other sweet foods to fulfill this sugary desire.

What Health Risks are Associated with Artificial Sweeteners?

According to one study, consumption of artificial sweeteners might actually contribute to:

  • Obesity
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Increased Appetite
  • Risk for Some Cancers

Singh Snapshot

  1. Eating too many carbs does not cause obesity.  In fact it is obesity that forces you to consume more carbohydrates, because of hyperinsulinemia.
  2. While artificial sweeteners contain no carbohydrates or calories they do increase your insulin, causing you to crave more sweets.
  3. Studies have shown that the consumption of artificial sweeteners may cause obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and increase the risk for some cancers.

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