By Wade Rupard

Forum News Service


GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- With obesity continuing to rise in the U.S., more and more people are turning to diet soft drinks to avoid packing on extra pounds.

Though diet drinks have some benefits, Lynn Holum, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator at Altru Health System, said they still aren't as healthy as other choices, such as milk or water.

Holum said the beverages - both regular and diet - have no nutritional value and people aren't getting anything they need by drinking it.

"Drinking soda, in general, can easily lead to weight gain, dental problems and a lot of other health issues," she said.

While soda is full of empty calories, people still turn to the drink in droves. According to a Gallup poll in 2012, 48 percent of Americans drink at least one glass of soda per day. Among those who do drink the beverages, the average consumption was 2.6 glasses per day, the poll showed.

With growing obesity rates and the rate at which it's consumed, it's no surprise more and more are turning to diet soda to try to improve their health and curb calories.

Diet sodas use artificial sweeteners, which have become controversial for their safety. Holum said there are six artificial sugars that have been approved and are deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration. Those are found in the diet drinks people find.

Though she said it's decided on a case-by-case basis dependent on a person's overall health, Holum said she often recommends her patients switch to diet sodas, particularly if they have diabetes, because blood sugar is easier to control. The switch also can help cut extra calories.

"Drinking diet soda can combine something you enjoy without the extra calories," she said.

Switching to diet soda isn't the only thing a person should do, however. A person still needs to follow a healthy, balanced diet and try to limit themselves on how much they drink.

Diet sodas consumed in large quantities still can be harmful, Holum said. A person still needs drinks with nutrients, such as water and milk, to maintain a healthy diet.

Problems arise, however, when diet soda replaces those healthier options.

"In a regular diet, soda can fit in in moderation, as long as you're also eating good, healthy foods in your diet," she said. "Drinking diet soda isn't a magic wand to solve everything."