Well Being

Nutritionist Lauren Slayton of Foodtrainers Weighs In on Our Coke/Diet Coke Debate

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Remember Lauren Slayton, M.S. R.D., founder of New York City’s Foodtrainers? Lauren has more than a decade of experience as both a dietician and nutritional counselor, and last time she gave us 6 Foods to Eat to Beat Summer Heat (before that it was 26 Ways to Lower Your Bad Cholesterol – Including Alcohol!). Offering one-on-one sessions on weight and nutrition management, Foodtrainers helps clients create, record, achieve, and maintain personal health goals. For those in need of grocery shopping guidance on a budget, Foodtrainers also offers an affordable program, Market Foodtraining. This time, we challenged Lauren to weigh in on the controversial drinking Coke/Diet Coke debate that many of you feel so strongly about. (And we threw in some coffee chat for good measure.) We asked, she answered.

What's your main beef with soda?

The danger with soda is that it uneasily co-exists with otherwise healthy lifestyles, as opposed to a Snickers candy bar, which is clearly junk food. There are people who compete in triathlons, shop at farmers' markets, eat grass-fed meats – and drink three Diet Cokes a day. Regular or diet, two or more cans of soda a day is probably too many. (If you have a family history of kidney stones, would you put yourself at a higher risk by drinking more than two?)

Noted. Which is better for us, regular or diet soda?

I'd drink a little bit of the real thing over the diet version. But basically, you're choosing between the electric chair and lethal injection.

Wow. What would you tell skeptics who say that they drink soda every day, but they’re perfectly healthy because they exercise?

I’d say that they’re the exceptions to the rule. Sure, right now they’re healthy. Maybe it’s genetics or luck, but it won't necessarily last.

Ouch. So what’s the least of these three evils: Coffee, Coke or Diet Coke?

I vote for coffee over Coke and Diet Coke. If you don’t have issues with anxiety disorders and aren’t pregnant, some caffeine is fine. But soda is the perfect storm of bad sweeteners, extreme acidity, and artificial colorings that can cause migraines and hives. Some people would say that the caffeine in coffee is actually good for you. It's certainly the more natural choice. But obviously, people shouldn’t have five cups of coffee a day.

Got it. Is there anything not totally awful about soda?

Caffeine is the least worrying part of soda, if you’re not pregnant. And, if the sweeteners in sodas were actually sugar or sucrose (and not high fructose corn syrup), soda might be a bit better.

So how bad is soda for my teeth? I like my dentist, but not that much.

With soda, two things contribute to dental health issues: Sugar and acidity. In soda, the latter is off the charts – it's on par with battery acid.

Yike. What are some short-term health effects of drinking soda and coffee?

You'll experience that energy surge, and then sluggishness. There's also nervousness, headaches, and irritability. Plus, caffeine is irritating to the stomach.

Nice. Okay, what are some long-term effects?

You'll end up fat, toothless, and dying of cancer. But seriously, regular and diet sodas increase your risk of pancreatic cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, dental problems, and weight issues.

Fun! But what if we just want one soda once in a while when we're really hungover?

Artificial sweeteners in soda don’t satiate you. Sweet begets sweet; sodium makes you more thirsty. So, of course, you want more. If you're going to drink soda, I can't make a case for either high fructose corn syrup or NutraSweet, so if you indulge, just pick your poison.

Will do. What are three things you can tell us about this soda/caffeine debate that might shock us?

1. Diet Coke actually promotes weight gain, not weight loss.

2. Caffeine actually makes PMS symptoms worse. (But it’s a diuretic, so it can help with bloating.)

3. This one's about alcohol: During your period, you're much more susceptible to alcohol’s effects than you are when you're not menstruating and drink the same amount of alcohol. Basically, you'll get drunk faster on your period. (You decide if that's a good thing or a bad thing.)

As a nutritionist, what’s something you can tell us about all this soda nonsense that might actually not make us want to cry?

In terms of a client's happiness, I'd choose a glass of wine over a diet soda every time.

Yessss! What’s something that might bum us out?

If it's not that difficult for you, it’s a good idea to give up soda.

Check out Lauren’s Foodtrainers blog and follow Lauren on Twitter: @foodtrainers