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The Truth about Diet Soda

We talk a lot about "watching what we eat," but if you never gave a thought to what you ate and instead watched only what you drank, you could probably cut 450 calories a day out of your life-that's nearly a pound of fat trimmed away each week! That's what a study from the University of North Carolina found. Americans today drink about 192 gallons of liquid a year-or about 2 liters a day. To put it into perspective, this is nearly twice as many calories as we did 30 years ago.

When confronted with the growing tide of calories from sweetened beverages, the first response is, "Why not just drink diet soda?" Well, for a few reasons. Eat This, Not That!did some research and found out some hard truths behind the low-calorie (and nutrition-free) beverage. The story isn't as clear-cut as you suspect, and it might make you think twice the next time you're looking for a thirst quencher.

Hard Truth No. 1

Just because diet soda is low in calories doesn't mean it can't lead to weight gain.

It may have only 5 or fewer calories per serving, but emerging research suggests that consuming sugary-tasting beverages-even if they're artificially sweetened-may lead to a high preference for sweetness overall. That means sweeter (and more caloric) cereal, bread, dessert-everything. Considering there are 15 calories in every teaspoon of sugar, that's not good news if you're watching your weight.

Hard Truth No. 2

Guzzling these drinks all day long forces out the healthy beverages you need.

Diet soda is 100 percent nutrition-free-and it's important to remember that all that useless liquid is taking up space that could have gone to more healthy alternatives. On the positive side, it means you won't be taking in equally non-nutritious, calorie- and sugar-packed options. But it's just as important to actively drink the good stuff as it is to avoid the bad stuff. So one diet soda a day [may not be horrific], but if you're downing five or six cans, that means you're limiting your intake of healthful beverages, particularly water and tea, which is high in antioxidants.

Plus, a recent study from Johns Hopkins found that restricting liquid caloric intake is a more effective way to lose weight than restricting calories from food.

Hard Truth No. 3

There remain some concerns over aspartame, the low-calorie chemical used to give diet sodas their flavor.

Aspartame is 180 times sweeter than sugar, and some animal research has linked consumption of high amounts of the sweetener to brain tumors and lymphoma in rodents. The FDA maintains that the sweetener is safe, but reported side effects include dizziness, headaches, diarrhea, memory loss, and mood changes.

The Bottom Line Is This: Diet soda does you no good, and it might just be doing you harm. The best way to hydrate is by drinking low-calorie, high-nutrient fluids . . . with water being at the top, middle and bottom of the list!

It's Finally Here:  Summer!

Road trips, swimming pools, tennis, cold refreshing drinks poured over tumblers of ice. All the temptations are going to be out there at every overheated turn. Be sure to keep drinking water available wherever you go, and don't skimp on this life-giving fluid. Consider investing in a reusable stainless steel water jug to keep water in the car, rather than relying on plastics which can break down in the heat.

Ice is nice but not the best option for mealtime. Indulge in frosty cold beverages between meals, when you don't need your internal oven turned up to break down food. Picture a hungry hiker by a campfire at the end of a long day--ready to cook up a soul-satisfying supper, when along comes the Grinch and douses the flames with a bucket of cold water! No cooked food, no nutrition, no happy belly. Your stomach is like that campfire, and that iced tea beside your plate has the same effect as a bucket of cold water. So keep fluids with meals to a minimum and drink them at room temperature.

Enjoy all the wholesome goodness possible in summer drink choices. Buy a bag of lemons and a jar of local honey, and mix up the most delicious, nutritious, homemade lemonade imaginable. Remember sun tea? It's still in fashion, with a host of choices: black pekoe tea, green tea, spearmint or peppermint tea, or a blend to suit your fancy. Add a touch of nutritious sweetness if you like with honey, maple syrup, or agave syrup. Stir in sweetener while the tea is still warm to distribute it perfectly throughout the pitcher. For an extra touch of fun and nutrition, freeze sweet cherries, grapes or blueberries, and use them instead of ice cubes!