To think there was a time when soft drinks were considered harmless; something cold, sweet, fizzy and nonalcoholic to be enjoyed in front of the TV or at a party, ballgame or movie theater without need for a designated driver. This was before we all wised up about what's actually in these sweet, carbonated drinks and the possibly harmful effects lurking inside each can, cup or bottle. So we switched from regular sodas to diet sodas, newly confident that the reduced shots of sugar meant we could drink as much soda as we wanted without concern for our waistlines or our overall health. Only problem was, and is, while diet sodas might have less sugar than their regular counterparts, any claims that these drinks are healthier for us are dubious at best and dangerous at worst. Consider the ingredients typically found in a diet soda, according to consumerhealthdigest.com: artificial coloring (which some studies claim causes tumors in animals), aspartame (which converts to methanol in our body, leading to cell damage), phosphoric acid (which reportedly sucks calcium from our teeth and bones), and sodium benzoate (a chemical linked to leukemia and other diseases). That doesn't even take into account the presence of caffeine in many sodas, a key ingredient when the conversation turns to diet soda addiction. Pretty gruesome, huh? Here are a few other facts about diet sodas that should give us all pause: one in five Americans drink at least one diet soda every day, and that includes children ages two and up; artificial sweeteners from diet sodas can interfere with our body's ability to balance calorie intake; and regular intake of diet soda beverages carry an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, osteoporosis, kidney damage and increased blood pressure, among other health hazards. Not only is there little evidence that diet drinks help people lose or maintain weight, nutritionist and Soda Politics author Marion Nestle, PhD, says, quoted at prevention.com, but there's some evidence that diet drinks can cause similar (to sugary drinks) metabolic problems (such as belly fat and high cholesterol). Kicking diet soda addiction is no easy task, starting with the premise that finding a healthier alternative that packs the wallop of a diet soda's alluring three C's—carbonation, caffeine and (reduced) calories is a tough nut to crack. Following are some tips to help you kick the diet soda cravings:
8 Tips for Kicking Your Soda Pop Addiction
- Open your refrigerator or pantry—wherever you have stored diet sodas, warm or cold—and pour them all out; no, not into your mouth, down the drain.
- If going cold turkey is out of the question, at least commit to a phasing-out strategy. If you are having two diet sodas a day now, get it down to one soda a day over the next two weeks. Then keep cutting from there until you get it down to zero a week.
- During this process of weaning yourself off the soda, try drinking a glass of water first, and then try watering down your sodas.
- Maybe your diet-soda addiction is caused by low blood sugar. Think of those times you feel lightheaded, shaky or irritable from everyday stressors—and it's your adrenal glands that need a boost. Try adding protein to your diet, keep nuts and raisins on hand for the occasional blood sugar boost, and don't skip meals.
- Avoid fast foods, such as french fries and loaded-up burgers available at the local drive-thru. Such foods are designed to stimulate your hankering for a soft drink, and it works both ways, a vicious fat-gaining cycle. While you're at it, steer clear of vending machines—no sense in walking toward a known temptation.
- Stock your fridge or kitchen with drink substitutes at arm's length when you have a soft drink craving. One option is tea with some lemon, mint, sugar or artificial sweetener (Stevia is often recommended as a healthy choice) mixed in. Then there's flavored seltzer water, maybe with an added hit of fruit juice. Yet another option is sparkling mineral water mixed with fruit concentrate.
- Get caffeine withdrawal remedies. Two or three caffeinated sodas a day can pack a pick-me-up punch hard to replace. Drinking more coffee can help make up for the loss of caffeine. There are other remedies: consumerhealthdigest.com recommends red ginseng and magnesium oil.
- Maintain a daily log to include pertinent notes such as times of day or circumstances in which you most craved a diet soda, what you used for substitute drinks, when you caved and had a diet soda, etc., and keep it with you. Looking at this to see how far you've come can be a handy motivational tool to keep you keeping on.