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Ditch the diet soda
For years I've been telling people to stop drinking sugar-sweetened beverages and sodas in favor of tea, coffee, or water, or at least to switch to the diet version of the beverage. Last year a study funded by the American Beverage Association suggested that drinking diet sodas would actually help you lose more weight than if you drank water.

Cut Calories with Calorie-free Beverages
For the most part, losing weight is about calories in versus calories out: eat fewer calories or burn more calories (or both) and you'll lose weight. So you would think that switching sweetened beverages like sodas for unsweetened beverages like diet sodas or water would be an obvious way to cut calories.

Visualize the Sugar
I've written easily half a dozen reports on different research articles focusing on the effects of drinking sugar-sweetened beverages on your weight and your kids' weight as well as contributing to high blood pressure, poorer cholesterol scores, diabetes, gout, and kidney disease.


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Another reason to avoid sugared sodas: your brain

several carbonated beverage cans, seen from above

You're probably well aware that you shouldn't be drinking sugared sodas. They're full of nutritionally empty calories that you probably don't need, and if you're diabetic, they can also do a number on your blood sugars. Better to drink water or unsweetened tea or coffee, or if you must have sodas, choose the diet versions.

Yet some of my diabetic patients drink their sugared sodas anyway, arguing that as long as they take the calories into account and manage their blood sugars, what could it hurt?

Their brains, apparently - whether they're diabetic or not.

In 1974, over 1,000 people were recruited from Syracuse, New York to participate in a longitudinal study (following people over time). Every five years the participants were evaluated for heart disease risk factors as well as undergoing a battery of tests designed to assess their mental processes. In 2000 the study's designers added a dietary questionnaire to the mix, which allowed the authors of today's study the opportunity to assess the effects of sugared sodas on the diabetic brain (Brit J Nutr 2016;115:1397-1405).

Of the just over 800 people included in their analysis, almost 20% drank at least 1 sugared soda per day, while 27% drank at least one diet soda per day. (The authors focused specifically on sodas as opposed to other sugar-sweetened drinks such as fruit juices.) While those who drank sugared sodas regularly did not perform as well on the cognitive tests as those who did not (and more sodas meant lower scores), the effect was significantly magnified when those who drank sugared sodas were also diabetic. This held true even when the authors took into account risk factors for heart disease, lifestyle and dietary risk factors, and Body Mass Index.

What this means for you

Those who drank diet sodas performed as well on the cognitive tests as those who did not drink sodas at all, making it clear that it's the sugar in the sodas (not, say, the carbonation) that makes the difference. Could it be the High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) that's in so many sugared sodas that's the culprit? There's no way to tell from this study. Whether it's "made with real sugar" or contains HFCS, skip the sugared sodas in favor of water, coffee, or tea. Diet sodas have their own set of problems, including greater risk of becoming overweight or obese and hindering efforts to lose weight. Best to avoid them as well.


First posted: June 1, 2016