Seizing upon a gap in the market, diet soda was introduced in 1952 by Kirsch bottling who released a largely unsuccessful Ginger Ale, this was shortly followed by the better known brands of Diet Rite Tab and diet Dr Pepper, it was initially marketed towards diabetics but soon caught on amongst the health conscious particularly dieters.
Diet soda has a chequered history of using harmful substances, the first such being Cyclamates, Aspartame and Saccharin, Cyclamates is particularly harmful as studies have shown it’s a carcinogen, as such this was removed during the 1970’s. A recent study conducted over an 11 year period by Boston University has shown that Aspartame has strong links to the degeneration of liver functionality, studies on Saccharin have also hinted at the same connection. Asides from the health risks research has also shown that it is the sweetener in soft drinks that causes the weight gain.
The majority of banned or potentially harmful substances are used to artificially add a sweetened taste in the absence of sugar, researchers are still unsure of the long term health effects of sweeteners in today’s market. Some of these substances have been removed however others are still used in some of the most popular diet sodas, for this to be the case what it does show is that the public doesn’t necessarily always know what their drinks contain.
The main theory behind Diet Soda associated weight gain is that by replacing regular soda with diet soda it confuses the metabolism, this is called metabolic syndrome. The brain recognizes sugar intake as energy, once this sugar has been replaced with an artificial substitute the energy is no longer there but the brain still perceives this as sugar. Of course over a period of time this could potentially manipulate the body’s metabolism causing weight gain, disrupting the body’s natural calorie regulation means an increased level of calorie consumption to make up for the shortfall caused by drinking Diet Soda, it’s an interesting theory which has been proven on lab animals but not scientifically tested on humans although observational studies have been conducted.
One such study in San Antonio Texas, yielded startling results; the study followed eating patterns of 5000 adults over five to seven years, the subjects were categorized into two groups, the first being people who drank regular and Diet soda, the second consisted of those that drank diet only. From analysing the collected data researchers discovered that the people who consumed diet soda only were more likely to become obese and as such at a higher risk of developing other health issues. Of course this was a purely observational test which means that there could be alternative factors associated with weight gain.
From the above evidence it’s clear that diet soda has the potential to cause weight gain however it’s important to note that there are of course other debilitating factors to its cause as well. As Susan Swithers, a professor who has reviewed numerous studies puts it ‘are diet sodas worse for you than regular sodas? I think that’s the wrong question. It should be ‘what good are sodas for you in the first place?’