As I was casting about for a subject to write about this morning, I ran across an article published in Time magazine that asked this question a couple years ago. It grabbed my attention because it reminded me of a brief piece I wrote almost 20 years ago titled Will the Real Diet Food Please Stand Up.
The Newsweek article cites studies that suggest our bodies may learn to associate certain tastes with higher or lower calorie levels. So when we eat something that tastes like it’s higher in calories, such as a diet soda, our bodies expect to get the calories. And when they don’t, they go on the search to get them.
The lead author of one of the studies also noted, “A zero-calorie drink could produce a metabolic response if it is sweet. It can condition you to develop a preference for sweet things, which can lead to weight gain or metabolic syndrome. So something that is sweet could produce a metabolic effect even if it doesn’t have a whole lot of calories.”
I don’t know if science has uncovered any more evidence to back this up in the two years since this study was published. I do know that many of the women who come to Green Mountain seem to live on foods that have been reduced in calories in some way. Of course, they choose these foods in an honest attempt to help them lose weight, or at least not gain more. But we’ve always encouraged real food in moderate amounts because we’ve seen (and experienced ourselves) how much more satisfying the real thing is.
Real foods also come with something else that’s as important as the calories they contain: Vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, fiber. Of course, those are real foods that aren’t overloaded with low-nutrient ingredients like sugar or foods that have had their life processed out of then. Then again, I wouldn’t call that real food.
I’m not sure a diet soda here or there would have a hugely negative effect on a well-nourished person. But that’s something many of us who struggle with weight aren’t. Still, when it comes to a refreshing drink, my choice is water.
What’s your drink of choice (non-alcoholic, that is)?
For more reading about real food, check out this post.