Sarah is a freshman in high school who is is also holding down a 20-hour-a-week job. She drinks diet cola several times a day to keep her energized without adding calories. She has given up all dairy products as part of her newly-embraced vegan diet. At a routine check up, her physician warned her against excessive soda consumption and recommended that she add more source of calcium to her diet. Why?
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Sarah has a lot to learn about nutrition. The reason her physician would warn against the perils of falling into the “diet soda” trap is because, other than calories, which can easily be burned off through exercise, diet carbonated beverages are every bit as unhealthy as the regular kind, probably more so. The artificial sweeteners used in diet sodas do not break down in the body as easily or naturally as reasonable quantities of sugar do, and have been found to actually contribute to weight gain. Artificial sweeteners may act as stimulants that increase sensations of hunger, thereby causing consumers of these substances to eat more often than would otherwise be the case. In addition, a much-hyped study by the Harvard Medical School concluded that consumption of diet soda, certainly in the quantities suggested in the case of “Sarah,” cause kidney problems, although whether that is another issue pertaining to the sweeteners used is uncertain.
The issue of calcium deficiency is a little perplexing to researchers in this context. While women are statistically far more likely to develop osteoporosis, a weakening of bone structure, than men, a refusal to drink milk because it comes from animals should not be a show-stopper with respect to the requirement for calcium. A vegan diet is perfectly consistent with calcium requirements. Calcium can be attained from eating broccoli, spinach, okra, kale, soy and white beans, sesame seeds, Brazil nuts and almonds, oranges, and celery. In addition, exercise in the sun is important for maintaining healthy bones, and is certainly consistent with “Sarah’s” self-imposed dietary restrictions. Basically, she should eliminate the diet soda and supplement her vegan diet with orange juice and exercise. While results still leave connections uncertain, Tufts University research on the cola soda and calcium for bones connection have identified that bone density in both men and women is less for those who drink cola than for those who drink non-cola sodas.
Researchers at Tufts University, studying several thousand men and women, found that women who regularly drank cola-based sodas -- three or more a day -- had almost 4% lower bone mineral density in the hip, even though researchers controlled for calcium and vitamin D intake. But women who drank non-cola soft drinks, like Sprite or Mountain Dew, didn't appear to have lower bone density. (webmd.com)
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