In these days of health consciousness, many fat people do their best to lose weight, while those who have moderate weight try not to add to their waist lines. As a result, many people take all sorts of drinks which manufacturers and retailers alike swear are healthy for weight watchers. Really, the devil is in the details when it comes to “health” drinks. For one, the way senses are assailed with advertisements on the radio, TV, newspapers and the Internet – sometimes via the email boxes – doesn’t leave anyone out of the messages.
Again, the packaging and overall presentation of these drinks are as tantalising as the public figures, such as singers, usually employed as the “face” of the products. Pray, who will not take a second look at a scantily dressed shapely lady whose unspoken message is that ‘I’m shapely and beautiful all because I take this product daily?’ Yet, nutritionists have a beef with frizzy drinks, especially those of them that are said to have zero calorie and sugarless, even when they are sweet to taste.
A new study published in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, reveals that artificially sweetened beverages are not only linked with ill health effects similar to those associated with consuming regular soft drinks, they may even cause worse long-term health outcomes.
Researchers at the Department of Psychological Sciences and Ingestive Behaviour Research Centre at Purdue University, United States, say artificially sweetened drinks could actually throw off your metabolism, affecting the way your body processes regular sugars.
The researchers say there’s a correlation between diet drink consumption and poor health. Lead researcher, Dr. Susan Swithers, explains that when people eat something that tastes sweet but introduces no real sugar into the blood system, it may throw off the body’s response mechanism.
Scientists at Harvard School of Public Health also note that though soft drinks are tasty, available everywhere, and inexpensive, they’re also a prime source of extra calories that can contribute to weight gain and development of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.
As for diet soft drinks, the researchers say, they are made with artificial sweeteners and therefore may not be the best alternatives to regular soft drinks. They have their reasons.
The scientists note that using artificial sweeteners in soft drinks instead of sugar or high-fructose corn syrup seems like it would sidestep any problems with weight or diabetes. They agree that artificial sweeteners deliver zero carbohydrates, fat, and protein, so they can’t directly influence calorie intake or blood sugar.
But here comes the bombshell: “Over the short term, switching from sugar-sweetened soft drinks to diet drinks cuts calories and leads to weight loss. Long-term use, though, may be a different story.”
In support of this analysis, a report entitled “Intense sweeteners, energy intake and the control of bodyweight,” published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, reveals that artificial sweeteners are far more sweeter than sugar and therefore may not be suitable for consumption, especially over an extended period, which is likely to be the case when one takes it for weight reduction.
The commonest sugar substitutes in diet drinks include aspartame, which is 180 times sweeter than sugar; acesulfame-K – 200 times sweeter than sugar; saccharin – 300 times sweeter than sugar; sucralose – 600 times sweeter than sugar; and neotame – 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar.
Like the Purdue scientists, the Harvard authors posit that one worry about artificial sweeteners is that “they uncouple sweetness and energy.”
They note that until recently, sweet taste meant sugar, and thus energy. The human brain responds to sweetness with signals to, at first, eat more and then with signals to slow down and stop eating.
“By providing a sweet taste without any calories, artificial sweeteners could confuse these intricate feedback loops that involve the brain, stomach, nerves, and hormones. If this happens, it could throw off the body’s ability to accurately gauge how many calories are being taken in,” they warn.
Moreover, researchers at the University of Texas Health Centre made some startling findings when testing the link between obesity and diet drinks. According to the study, obesity risk among diet drink takers increased as follows:
- 26.5 per cent for people drinking up to ½ can of diet drink per day, and 24 per cent for regular soft drink users consuming up to one can per day
- 54.5 per cent for one to two cans of diet drink per day, as opposed to 32.8 per cent for those drinking the same amount of regular soft drinks
- 57.1 per cent for people drinking more than two cans of diet drinks per day, as opposed to 47.2 per cent for people drinking the same amount of regular drinks.
In everyday language, what this means is this: diet drinks consumption has a higher correlation with obesity rates than even the consumption of caloric soft drinks containing sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.
Another study at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine shows that people who drank diet drinks daily had a 61 per cent increased risk of a cardiovascular event. The researchers studied more than 2,500 participants for about nine years, during which 559 heart attacks occurred.
In another Harvard study, scientists say an 11-year-long study of more than 3,000 women revealed that diet drinks are associated with a two-fold increased risk for kidney decline. They submit that, “Kidney function started declining when women drank more than two soft drinks a day. Even more interesting: Since kidney decline was not associated with sugar-sweetened soft drinks, we suspect that the diet sweeteners are responsible.”
Worse still, nutritionists note that diet drinks contain certain preservatives that are not even found in regular soft drinks. One of such is sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate.
A professor of molecular biology and biotechnology at the University of Sheffield in the U.K, Peter Piper, reveals that this preservative has the ability to cause cell damage; while the Centre for Science in the Public Interest warns that the preservative has been linked to hives, asthma, and other allergic conditions.
Indeed, the Food Commission in the United Kingdom classifies both preservatives as “mild irritants to the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes.”
Finally, a study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals that diet drinks raised the risk of diabetes more than sugar-sweetened ones; and that women who drank one can of diet drink had a 33 per cent increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, while women who drank a can of soft drink had a 66 per cent increased risk.
Again, the study says, “Women who drank diet drinks drank twice as much as those who drank sugar-sweetened soft drinks because artificial sweeteners are more addictive and are hundreds to thousands of times sweeter than regular sugar.”
In reaction, Professor of Human Nutrition at Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, Prof. Ignatius Onimawo, has this to say in relation to these studies: “Generally speaking, frizzy drinks – whether for weight loss or just for pleasure – should be occasional treats, rather than making them your daily source of hydration.”