Column: Facts about soda and sugar substitutes

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Commentary by Jessica Swenberg, MD, IU Health Physicians Family Medicine – Zionsville 

Numerous health studies have been published about the potential risks of drinking soda – both regular and diet. While sugar-filled sodas have been linked to weight gain and even obesity, diet drinks are also scrutinized. In fact, recent research suggests that diet drinks may increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Both regular and diet sodas are linked to not only obesity, but also kidney damage and certain cancers.

A 2004 study published in the “American Journal of Preventive Medicine” found that calories from beverages account for more than 20 percent of the total daily calories Americans over age two consume. Consuming that many calories just from beverages is one reason people gain weight from drinks such as regular sodas.

Switching to diet soda was once thought to be the answer. However, we now know that although diet drinks have no calories, the brain responds to the sweetness in sugar substitutes, stimulating chemicals that can increase feelings of hunger. This can lead to overeating and weight gain.

People also have questions about the safety of sugar substitutes used to sweeten many diet drinks and low-calorie foods. The most common substitutes are Aspartame (Equal®, NutraSweet®), Saccharin (Sweet‘N Low®) and Sucralose (Splenda®). Stevia (Truvia®, Pure Via®) is another sugar substitute that is made from an herbal plant and is found in some foods and drinks. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates artificial sweeteners and considers them all safe in moderation.

When it comes to choosing food and drinks – including sodas and foods and beverages containing sugar substitutes – practicing moderation is a good thing to keep in mind. And remember, there’s always nature’s number one beverage – water. If you’re trying to cut down on soda, consider adding a bit of flavor to water with slices of lemon, lime, cucumber, mint leaves or strawberries.

Jessica Swenberg, MD, specializes in family medicine. She is a guest columnist located at IU Health Physicians Family Medicine, 55 Brendon Way, Ste. 800, in Zionsville. Reach her by calling the office at 777.6400.

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