Is Diet Soda Good or Bad for Diabetics?
If you’re living with diabetes (and more than 34 million Americans currently are), you know that managing the disease is all about controlling your blood sugar level. Obviously, beverages loaded with sugar and calories, such as colas and sodas, are not advisable as they are certain to elevate blood glucose levels and contribute to weight gain - both of which can be very detrimental to successfully managing diabetes.
This is exactly why many people with Type 2 diabetes experiment with diet drinks. These beverages feature a wide variety of artificial sweeteners that on the surface seem to make sense, as they are low in calories and don’t contain real sugar. But are they really good for you? Are they actually helpful or harmful in managing your diabetes? In this post, we explore these questions.
Diet soda gets a big “0” nutritionally
Let’s start out with the fact that diet sodas aren’t adding anything to your healthy diet. While it is true that they are far lower in calories and carbohydrates than regular sodas, they also are basically void of any essential nutrients that contribute to good health. In other words, you’re drinking something that is not giving you any positive physical benefits.
If you’re suddenly thinking, “well water doesn’t give me any real health benefits either,” that’s not true. Water is essential for hydration which is very important to managing diabetes. In fact, even mild dehydration can elevate blood sugar levels dramatically. Additionally, water aids in digestion, helps lubricate joints, helps flush waste products, prevents constipation, carries nutrients and oxygen to cells throughout the body, and aids in a long list of other vital bodily functions.
It’s not just that water has zero sugar and zero calories. It’s that water helps the body function better. A diet soda just can’t do that.
What if diet soda could actually elevate blood sugar?
We’re not kidding. Some studies point to the fact that artificial sweeteners, most notably the ever-popular Aspartame, can actually elevate blood glucose levels at rates similar to regular sugar. More research certainly needs to be done on this subject, but the possibility exists that certain diet sodas aren’t giving you to blood sugar benefits you might think.
A heightened risk of eye problems.
A study published in 2018 found that drinking only four or more diet sodas in a weeklong period doubled a person’s risk of proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR), one of the most common and serious diabetes-related complications. When a person gets PDR, abnormal blood vessels develop in the eye which can lead to blindness.
The big question – are you really losing weight with diet sodas?
This one is likely to surprise you. Research shows that people who consume numerous diet beverages each day may actually have a tendency to put on weight. How is this possible? There’s a phenomenon in which the brain reacts to artificial sweeteners by increasing a person’s appetite. Essentially, the brain is not satisfied by the artificial sweeteners found in diet soda. This triggers a person to find that satisfaction by consuming more food - often choices that are not diabetes friendly. One study conducted in 2014 by the American Public Health Association, reported that overweight individuals who drank diet sodas also consumed between 90 and 200 more calories each day in the form of additional food consumption.
So, if you’re drinking diet sodas to lose some of those excess pounds, the question to ask yourself is this, “am I defeating the purpose by eating more calories and by making less healthy food choices?”
Another study, posted by the American Geriatrics Society, examined the long-term impact of diet soda on waist size in individuals over 65 years of age. The study went on for nearly a decade and found that waist size increased measurably in those who drank diet soda on a daily basis. Being that visceral body fat (or belly fat) is directly related to the development and control of Type 2 diabetes, these findings raise the question as to the benefits diet soda has in controlling weight and, thereby, improving diabetes management.
Diet sodas and other diabetes-related complications
Those living with diabetes already face a greater risk of developing a number of health complications than those without the disease. Now some research is pointing to the fact that the artificial sweeteners found in diet sodas may actually further increase the risk of certain complications. For instance, a study conducted by the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association found that drinking artificially sweetened beverages each day increased the risk of stroke and heart disease in postmenopausal women. Research also points to a link between excessive diet soda consumption (four cans or more each day) and a greater likelihood of being diagnosed with depression, another condition common in those living with diabetes.
It’s understandable to think diet sodas are going to have less of an impact on your blood sugar. It’s also logical that if you’re among the many with Type 2 diabetes who also face weight challenges that choosing low-calorie diet sodas might help you shed a few pounds. However, neither of these is necessarily the case. An occasional diet soda indulgence certainly isn’t likely to cause you any real harm. However, using diet soda as a daily staple for that sweet fix is not the best choice in terms of managing your diabetes.
As an alternative consider sparkling water. Many brands come naturally flavored with various fruits and contain no added sugar or calories. You can also try steeping or squeezing your favorite fruits into sparkling water to create your own diabetes-friendly soft drink. Lemon, lime, blackberries, and strawberries can add a burst of flavor that just might make you forget all about those artificially sweetened diet sodas.
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