Last week at our weekly McDonalds social gathering, some friends got in a mini-debate over which was worse for you: diet soda or regular.
As someone who has a vested interest in health and wellness and also still has something of a soda habit, I’ve put a lot of thought into my response.
First of all, the argument made by one is that diet cokes* have artificial sweeteners, which are worse for you than the “real thing.” The way I see it, high fructose corn syrup isn’t the “real thing” any more than aspartame or sucralose. As for “made with real sugar varieties,” table sugar is still a highly processed ingredient. Arguably less so than HFCS, but still largely untrue to its original form.
So, “artificial sweeteners” aside, it seems to me that since both diet and regular soft drinks are so incredible sweet, it really trains our palettes to require what we drink to be that sweet. Since I grew up drinking the stuff, it took me a while to get used to the unsweetened taste of sparkling water. A LONG while. Same with plain yogurt. I think just this past week I was able to eat plain yogurt for the first time without gagging. In general our culture has oversweetened everything so that our tastebuds have been numbed. This is a matter of any sweetener, sugar, honey, HFCS, aspartame, whatever. And in the case of sugar/HFCS-sweetened beverages, nobody, NOBODY needs 38 grams of PURE ADDED SUGAR in a single day. And that’s just what’s in a 12-oz can!
The way I see it, neither diet or regular soda can be considered “better” for you, or “less bad” for your health. Both are made up of highly processed, artificial ingredients, and both, consumed in excess, will wreak havoc on your health in some way, shape, or form. Neither will nourish you, and both are entirely devoid of any nutritive value.
Now, I said before that I still have something of a soda habit. Hypocrite much? I don’t think so. It’s been many, many moons since the days where I threw back 60 oz of Dr Pepper in a single day, most days. In fact, during my Substance Abuse class in college, I was assigned to abstain from something for the entire semester and write about my experience. I attempted to abstain from Dr Pepper but failed in glorious, epic fashion. I only lasted about two days before deciding to write my paper about how I was so addicted to Dr Pepper and didn’t care to quit.
But these days I’m more likely to pick unsweet tea over any carbonated beverage. My consumption of full-calorie cokes is pretty limited to an occasional treat, and when I do drink carbonated beverages, it’s typically in diet form. Why? Well, the Harvard School of Public Heath explains it best:
“For adults trying to wean themselves from sugary soda, diet soda may be the beverage equivalent of a nicotine patch: something to be used in small amounts, for a short time, just until you kick the habit.”
That’s pretty much what any diet product was for me. They were a bridge between junk and real food. In most cases I’ve been able to transition to realistic portions of real food and have quit most “diet” versions or alternatives. I no longer cook with Splenda, and just this week I switched from fat-free half & half (a scientific concotion of obscure fat-less substances formulated to taste and behave largely like half & half) to regular half & half (milk and cream. That’s it) in my Leek, Bacon, and Gruyere Crustless Quiche. And it’s fine. I’m accounting for the extra fat and calories accordingly.
But that said, diet drinks is something I’m still working on. When I drink carbonated drinks, they’re typically from a tap, therefore I drink a LOT of it, and in most cases I don’t want to deal with the calories.
I don’t think I’ll ever fully quit (A true Texan doesn’t quit Dublin Dr Pepper. Just sayin’!), but my goal is to continue to reduce my consumption until I get to the point where drinking sodas is so rare for me that all that’s left is my occasional full-calorie drink. Not because I think it’s “healthier” (because I don’t think that), but because it tastes better.
* “Would you like a coke?”
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