Back in college, I wrote a paper for a journalism class on the misconceptions of Pop Rocks, those fruit-flavored nuggets that fizzled in your mouth. Turns out that even though the urban legend had been proven false years before, a number of people (classmates included) still thought that mixing the candy with soda could cause your stomach to explode. According to legend, this deadly mixture even claimed the life of Mikey – the little boy from the old Life cereal commercials. Obviously, all of these rumors are false. And little Mikey is alive and well, working as an advertising-account manager at a New York radio station.
I bring this up because it seems the old "diet soda makes you fat " fallacy just keeps popping up. Although it's less dramatic than the Pop Rocks/Mikey misconception, it's a recurring food myth nonetheless.
Here are the facts, for those who are interested. Numerous studies over the years have shown that products - like diet soda - that are sweetened with low-calorie sweeteners like sucralose, saccharin and aspartame can help with weight management. For example, drinking a diet soda instead of the regular version can save 150 calories a day. Over the course of a year, that daily calorie savings could result in a 15-pound weight loss. In fact, the vast majority of scientific literature confirms the safety and benefits of using low-calorie sweeteners and low-calorie products for weight control and weight loss.
For example, a team of researchers from Harvard spent two years investigating how the addition of aspartame to a multidisciplinary weight control program would affect obese women. They found the low-calorie sweetener not only helped with weight loss, but also with long-term weight loss maintenance. Another study – published in a recent issue of "Pediatrics" – discovered that overweight children could prevent further weight gain simply by walking another 2,000 steps a day and reducing their calorie intake by 100. This was done by replacing sugar with Splenda and consuming beverages sweetened with sucralose. Low-calorie sweeteners can help combat obesity because they reduce the energy density of foods while maintaining the palatability.
However, they are not a magic bullet. A person who drinks 12 diet sodas a day or regularly consumes a gallon of sucralose-sweetened ice cream should not expect to lose weight. Instead, low-calorie sweeteners are another tool to incorporate into an overall healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and a balanced diet. The American Diabetes Association, as well as the American Heart Association, agree that diet beverages are a good option for those who want to control their weight and maintain a better lifestyle. A healthy weight can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other obesity-related illnesses.
So enjoy your diet pop. It will do your body - and your waistline - good.
For any old-schoolers out there, here is the Life cereal commercial featuring Mikey.