Managing blood sugar levels is an everyday goal for people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
While eating sugar doesn’t cause either type of diabetes, keeping tabs on carbohydrate and sugar intake is an important part of managing both types of diabetes. Eating healthfully and staying active can also reduce your risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
Being overweight or having obesity is linked to the development of type 2 diabetes. In fact, obesity is one of the leading causes of type 2 diabetes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of American adults have obesity. Obesity can put you at risk for diabetes and other health conditions.
Eating highly processed foods that are high in sugar, unhealthy fats, and empty calories increases your risk of gaining excess weight.
Drinking sugary drinks is also a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. If you’re working to keep your blood sugar in check or manage your weight, you might choose diet soda.
Low in calories and sugar, diet sodas appear to be a good alternative to sugary drinks. Diet sodas are 99 percent water, and when checking the nutrition facts panel, you should see less than 5 to 10 calories and less than 1 gram of carbohydrate per serving.
Even though they contain no sugar, diet sodas are usually sweetened with artificial sweeteners. They may contain natural or artificial flavors, coloring agents, acids, preservatives, and caffeine.
At one time, there was much debate over the safety of artificial sweeteners. Many feared that these sweeteners caused certain types of cancer. Studies performed in the 1970s suggested that the artificial sweetener saccharin was linked to bladder cancer in male rats.
Since that time, however, saccharin has been deemed safe and has been used safely in the food supply for over a hundred years. It’s 300 times sweeter than sucrose, or table sugar, so tiny amounts are used to sweeten foods and beverages.
The average person ingests less than one ounce of saccharin in a year.
The National Cancer Institute and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) among many other regulatory and professional organizations consider the sweetener safe.
Aspartame, another common yet controversial sweetener, gained clearance for use in 1981 as a sugar replacement.
The FDA regulates artificial sweeteners as food additives. It reviews and approves artificial sweeteners before they can be sold. Some food additives are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) and have the FDA’s approval.
Aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose are commonly found in diet sodas, and they’re all FDA reviewed and approved.
Other commonly used sweeteners approved for use by the FDA include advantame, acesulfame potassium, and neotame.
While diet soft drinks are safe, they provide no nutrients. In addition to diet soda, the ADA recommends drinking water, unsweetened iced, or hot tea, and sparkling or infused water, which similarly have no calories and few nutrients.
Although they contain carbohydrates, milk and 100 percent fruit juices can be wise choices when you consider the nutrients they provide. Be sure to limit fruit juices due to their high natural sugar content.
A 2000 study published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine investigated the risks of drinking colas in youth.
The study found that drinking carbonated beverages was associated with bone fractures in teenage girls. Most of the girls drank regular sugar sweetened soda, while only 20 percent drank the diet version.
Although the same wasn’t shown for boys, the study did raise concerns about replacing milk with soda during a critical time for bone development.
Diet soda consumption for adults only becomes problematic when the quantity consumed is very excessive. This can lead to higher intakes of caffeine if the beverages are caffeinated.
Replacing all water and dairy or 100 percent juice with diet soda in the diet can lead to missing essential nutrients.
The acceptable daily intake (ADI) is the level of intake considered safe. For an adult weighing 150 pounds, the ADI is 20 twelve ounce soft drinks or 97 packets of no-calorie sweetener such as aspartame.
Aspartame is one of the most commonly used artificial sweeteners. Brand names include NutraSweet and Equal. Aspartame is a low-calorie sweetener that’s 180 times sweeter than sugar and often used as a sugar substitute.
It contains no calories or carbohydrates, so it’ll have no effect on blood glucose levels.
Aspartame is made of two naturally occurring amino acids, which are the protein building blocks for humans.
These two amino acids — aspartic acid and phenylalanine — are found in meats, grains, and milk. Aspartame breaks down into these two amino acids and a small amount of methanol, and it doesn’t accumulate in the body.
The negative press around aspartame is mostly based upon animal studies.
Because rats don’t metabolize in the same way as humans and most of these studies use extreme doses of the sweeteners for testing, the results don’t reflect on the safety of aspartame for humans using a typical amount daily.
Another commonly heard urban myth is that artificial sweeteners make your body crave sugar.
In fact, many studies have found that people who replace full-calorie beverages with low-calorie sweetened ones tend to make healthier dietary choices and eat fewer sweets, subsequently losing weight.
When it comes to diet soda and diabetes, there are both pros and cons to consider.
Pros of drinking diet soda with diabetes include
- It contains fewer carbohydrates than regular soda.
- It curbs the sugar craving without a sugar overload.
- You’re consuming far fewer calories.
Cons of drinking diet soda with diabetes include
- You’re consuming few to no calories but gaining no nutritional benefit.
- It’s full of potentially harmful additives.
- Long-term diet soda drinking is still associated with weight gain and other health risks.
- Research shows an increased risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome with both diet soda and regular soda intake.
While water is the top recommendation for hydration, most people prefer drinks with some flavor added in. If you prefer not to reach for a diet soda, there are several great options to choose from instead.
Milk is also an acceptable choice, though it’s best to limit sweetened milk, like chocolate milk), and keep track of carbohydrates, since cow, rice, and soy milk all contain carbohydrates.
Other non-dairy milk alternatives may have fewer carbs, but they lack the nutritional value of cow’s milk or soy milk.
Unsweetened tea is another option. Whether you prefer hot or cold, you can choose from a large number of different flavors and types of tea. Remember that adding a natural sweetener such as honey does add carbohydrate and can raise blood glucose levels.
Finally, when in doubt, try fruit-infused water. You can add fruit (especially berries), cucumbers, lemon, and herbs (like basil and mint) into your water. Sparkling water is also a good option, as long as it’s carbohydrate- and calorie-free.
Whether it’s to lose weight or manage diabetes, becoming proactive about reducing sugar intake is a positive step. Switching to diet soda may help you meet your goal.
Drinking a zero-calorie beverage may be a better option than the sugared variety, and there are many acceptable sweetener choices available.
Be mindful of your eating habits, physical activity, and beverage choices. This will help you better manage your blood glucose levels.
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