Why carbs and diet soda are a disastrous combo you need to avoid

I’ve never been a big diet soda drinker. But I have a few friends and family members who looooove diet soda (especially Diet Coke). And they’re far from alone… diet soda is popular across the world.

Of course, there’s a dark side to the world’s love affair with diet soda — these drinks come with serious health risks.

Studies show diet sodas increase the risk of stroke, dementia and metabolic syndrome, among other issues. That’s why whenever someone I care about starts sipping on one at dinner, I can’t help but give them a little side-eye.

At the same time, I understand what it’s like to have a love affair with something that probably isn’t good for you (I’m looking at you, potato chips). So, I can’t be too judgy about their choice to indulge in a guilty pleasure. I do it all the time.

But I do have advice for the diet soda lovers out there. If you’re going to get down on a diet soda every once in a while, don’t eat carbs when you do. New research shows combining diet soda and carbs could be where the real danger lies…

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This artificial sweetener and this carbohydrate are a recipe for metabolic disaster

A recent study from researchers at Yale University shows that artificial sweeteners combined with carbohydrates are a recipe for high blood sugar, high blood pressure and weight gain (aka metabolic syndrome).

The study looked at the artificial sucralose specifically. Researchers had people drink beverages that contained just sucralose, just sugar or a combination of sucralose and a carbohydrate called maltodextrin.

People who drank just sugar-sweetened drinks or just sucralose-sweetened beverages didn’t experience a negative effect on blood sugar or insulin production. But people who drank sucralose and maltodextrin did.

At first, researchers thought the maltodextrin might be to blame. So, they tried giving people drinks that only contained maltodextrin to see what happened. Those drinks didn’t have a negative impact, which means it was the combination of sucralose and maltodextrin that was the problem.

Maltodextrin is a sweetener and carbohydrate. You’ll find it in a lot of processed foods and beverages… including diet soda. But even if you try avoiding items that contain both sucralose and maltodextrin, that might not be enough to protect yourself. Researchers suspect the dangerous metabolic effect of sucralose and maltodextrin may apply to sucralose and other carbohydrates too.

They’ll have to do more research to find out. But in the meantime? Choose something other than a sucralose-sweetened beverage to wash down that pasta dinner.

Safe consumption of artificial sweeteners

Clearly, you’ll want to steer clear of items that contain both sucralose and maltodextrin. That won’t be easy if you’re eating processed foods. Splenda, for example, contains both sucralose and maltodextrin. So, anything sweetened with that should be off the table (figuratively and literally).

Related: 5 Big health risks every time you drink soda

If you are going to indulge in a diet soda (or another product that’s artificially sweetened), choose something that just contains sucralose. To be clear, I’m not advising that you consume sweeteners like sucralose if you don’t already like them. I’m still skeptical about their health risks, even though this study found that sucralose is relatively harmless on its own. I’m just saying that, for people who really want to splurge on an artificially sweetened item, it might be the safest way to do that.

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If you’d rather give up artificial sweeteners altogether, I have some advice:

  1. Cut them out all at once. Research shows these sweeteners trigger craving centers in your brain. That means they make you crave more. If you want to cut them out, going cold turkey is probably best. But FYI… you might experience some withdrawal symptoms.
  2. Read every label. Artificial sweeteners are in so many different foods and beverages. If you want to cut them out, you need to be a diligent label reader. They also go by a lot of different names, so you have to know what you’re looking for. Here’s a comprehensive list of artificial sweeteners and their pseudonyms.
  3. When cravings strike, turn to fruit. Fruit is nature’s dessert! I know you might be rolling your eyes at me, but it’s true. And the longer you stay away from artificial sweeteners, the more a simple bowl of strawberries or a kiwi will start satisfying (most of) your cravings for sweets.
  4. When you really need a sugar fix, turn to real sugar. I know it’s not realistic to expect you to trade cake in for fruit for the rest of your life. So, when you do choose to eat something sweet, look for something that contains real sugar. Just make sure you don’t regularly eat more than six teaspoons a day if you’re a woman or nine teaspoons per day if you’re a man.

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Sources:

  1. Diet Soda: Good or Bad? — Healthline
  2. Diet soda by itself may not cause weight gain, study says, but combining with carbs can — CNN
  3. Artificial Sweetener Plus Carbs May Increase the Risk of Diabetes and Weight Gain — Consumer Reports
  4. 5 Steps to Quitting Artificial Sweeteners — Health

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Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.