If it was late afternoon, chances are that you would find me sitting in a drive-thru. A mid-afternoon diet soda was part of my daily ritual, and I was very particular about it. It had to come from the “Golden Arches.” A can of diet soda from a vending machine would not cut it. My friends kept saying that I was crazy and that there was no difference, but I looked it up. McDonald’s does, in fact, take their soda very seriously. Colder water, which is filtered twice, steel tanks for the syrup, and the famous wide straw – all conspired to ensure that I got my daily diet soda fix at McD’s and nowhere else.
Yesterday I had a revelation while I was cued up in the drive-thru line. I had just left my gastroenterologist’s office because I have been experiencing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)-like symptoms, such as diarrhea, gas, bloating, and abdominal pain. During the appointment, she talked about what might be causing my symptoms. She suggested that I begin to keep a food-beverage journal so we could analyze what I normally ate and drank over a two-week period and hopefully pinpoint what was triggering my symptoms.
As I sat in line, I had a horrible thought … What if my beloved diet soda was bad for my gut? When I returned to work, I immediately logged onto my computer and looked up “Is Diet Soda Bad for You?” It turned out that the only ingredient in diet soda that does not have negative side-effects is the water. This came as a huge shock to me. I decided to make a list of all of the ways that my diet soda habit was hurting my body. I planned to hang the list by my desk as a constant reminder of why I needed to break this habit.
- Gas, Bloating, and Abdominal Pain: These problems can all be triggered by carbonation (carbon dioxide gas that creates bubbles in water). When I drink bubbles, they become trapped in my intestines. The build-up results in intestinal gas and abdominal pain. It also bloats my belly, making my favorite jeans feel tight.
- Diarrhea: Caffeine overstimulates intestinal movement (peristalsis). When this happens, my body does not have time to remove sufficient water from the stool, and I end up racing to the bathroom with diarrhea.
- Cavities: The acids in any soda erode my tooth enamel making it very likely that I will develop cavities.
- Osteoporosis: A study published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” found that the intake of cola is associated with low bone mineral density in women. I do not want to end up with a “widow’s hump” later in life because I refused to quit drinking diet soda!
- Damaged Kidneys: The Nurses’ Health Study, following more than 200,000 nurses over a 40-year period, found that drinking two or more diet sodas a day may double the risk of declining kidney function. My kidney function could decline by as much as 30 percent if I keep this up.
There was some good news. Regardless of what the Internet says, there is no valid scientific evidence that diet soda will make me obese or give me cancer. That is, unless I start drinking hundreds of cans every day.
So now when 4 p.m. rolls around, I am right back in the McDonald’s drive-thru. This time, however, when I get up to the speaker, I order a large unsweet iced tea. I keep a little bottle of Stevia in my purse, so that I can sweeten my tea without adding calories or artificial sweeteners. This is my new, zero-calorie afternoon habit. I still get a little caffeine to get me through the rest of my day, but my IBS-like symptoms have diminished and my body is much better off. At the end of the day, I consider quitting my diet soda habit a small price to pay for my health.
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