This is a wonderful video by a group called Wellness Works. It is 9 minutes long and presents a very interesting theory as to why diet drinks make us fat. With its use of cartoons, it is highly watchable. Now, hyperacidity is a very common problem, and is not good for any of us, whether we are trying to lose weight or not. This blog is partly about the fattening qualities of diet drinks and also about the dangers of being too acidic. The video explains that the acid/alkaline scale runs from pH 0 – 14, pH 14 being the most alkaline. Neutral is pH 7. Our blood needs to be slightly alkaline at pH 7.35 – 7.45 or we die. So the body does all it can to keep us at that alkalinity. This leads to the questions of why hyperacidity is common, what causes it, how does the body cope and how we can correct it.
There are 3 principal causes of hyperacidity; the first is diet and the second, according to the video, is stress and the 3rd, not mentioned, is exercise. At this point I don’t know why stress makes us more acidic, but a) it doesn’t surprise me and b) I will find out why. More commonly known is the effects of diet. Everything that we eat and drink is either alkalising or acidifying and if we have a truly balanced diet and good lifestyle, things balance themselves out. Of course, red meat is the prime candidate of blame for being acidifying, with less attention paid to, say, parmesan cheese, which is the most acidic food we can eat. In fact, as the video points out, it is not the initial acidity or alkalinity of the food that matters, but the effects of the foods after digestion that matters. So, for example, lemon and lime are extremely acidic in their natural state, but after we have eaten them, they have a positive alkalising effect on the body. All this makes it harder to tell which foods do what. As a general rule, animal, fish and dairy proteins are acidifying, as are oils, grains (wheat, rice, rye, oats etc) and most nuts. Most vegetables, fruits, and spices – and sea salt – are alkalising. Click on this link to the simplest source of information on the acid/alkalinity of foods I have found, but there may be better ones. (Let me know if you find one). Another thing that makes food more acidic is processing, frying, and sweetening foods, whether they use real or artificial sweeteners. In these days of low fat, low salt, this has to equate to high sugar or the food will taste horribly ‘healthy’ – ie not tasty. So a healthy meal should ideally be home cooked, contain large amount of vegetables, some salt and spices or herbs to counteract the acid forming part of the meal, and troubles arise when we regularly eat processed meals with limited vegetables. So where does diet drink come into this? Well, all fizzy drinks (‘fat’-free or not) contain phosphoric acid – which comes next to battery acid on the acid/alkaline scale. So drink these regularly, along with ignoring the vegetables, and we put tremendous stress on the body since it has to keep itself slightly alkaline.
Before moving into how the body copes with this onslaught, there is the 3rd acidifying thing that blows the acidifying effects of food out of the water, and that is exercise. When we exercise, in any meaningful way, we produce acid, as gone into in my page How to Eat Well for the Working Athlete, in the section on how vegetables help. If we don’t exercise, we are doomed to a feeble old age. If we do exercise, this is good, but we do have to counteract the effects of exercise, and part of this lies in eating plenty of vegetables. And we must salt our food with natural, coloured salts, such as Celtic sea salt. The link is to a blog on why salt is good for us.
What does the body do to keep itself slightly alkaline to avoid dying? There are 2 main mechanisms; the first is to increase breathing, sweating and widdling. Increased breathing breathes out carbonic acid as carbon dioxide, increased widdling taxes the kidneys as they try to excrete excess acidity through the urine. Increased sweating leaches salt and vital electrolytes. The second main mechanism is by leaching alkalising minerals from the body, and these are principally calcium, magnesium,sodium and iodine. As an example, the country in the world with the highest rates of osteoporosis, or thinning of the bones, is America. And the country with the highest dairy intake is America, making holes in the myth that dairy is a good source of calcium. Dairy cannot be a good source of calcium because, apart from whey protein, dairy is acid forming, so causing the body to leach calcium to counteract this. So ignoring the sprouts leads to low levels of calcium and also low levels of magnesium. The principal side effect of low magnesium levels is poor quality sleep. Low levels of sodium were gone into in the salt blog, but maybe the most pertinent is that sodium is a vital for the cells of the body to generate electricity – or energy. So low salt levels means low energy levels. All of which brings us to the punchline of why diet drinks make us fat – and that is due to low levels of the 4th alkalising mineral: iodine.
Iodine is the mineral associated with the thyroid gland. And the thyroid gland regulates metabolism, the rate at which we burn energy when at rest – or how many calories we burn when we are resting and sleeping. The more the better. Low levels of iodine leads to a more sluggish thyroid, so metabolism drops and we burn less calories, which, unless we eat less and less to compensate, will make us fatter and fatter and less and less inclined to get of the sofa to do something about it.
To summarise why diet drinks make us fat, all fizzy drinks/sodas contain phosphoric acid, which, drunk regularly, along with a diet heavily reliant on processed foods and lack of fresh vegetables, plus a good dose of stress and maybe some exercise thrown in, means we become over acidic and this forces the body to leach its precious iodine to help alkalise us, thus slowing our thyroid and making us fat.
Now, there are a few other theories as to why diet drinks make us fat. One centres on the sweetness of the drinks raising insulin, the fat storage hormone. And this is made worse by artificial sweeteners since they are many times sweeter than sucrose. Another theory is based on the following simple experiment: take a sip of water, then a bite of fruit and notice how nice the fruit is. Now take a sip of any diet fizzy drink, then another bite of the same fruit. Now the fruit tastes flat and uninteresting, which leads to a craving for high-calorie highly processed foods, since simple food tastes boring. A third theory is that by drinking a fizzy drink with no calories, we think we can eat more food in compensation because we have been good and saved calories.
The bottom line, is if we want our bottoms and bellies smaller, don’t drink fizzy drinks whether sweetened with sugar or artificial sugars. As the sugar blogs have been explaining, we are born with a rampant sweet tooth that knows no limits and it is up to us to reign it in, and it really doesn’t matter what form the sugar is in.
That apart, for all of us, to maintain long term good health and not become prey to osteoporosis, insomnia, over stressed kidneys or just plain TAT (tired all the time), then ensuring a plentiful heap of veggies is on our lunch and dinner plate along with the good quality protein and fat, plus respecting our body’s need for rest, recuperation and enough sleep is an important plank in getting us there.