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

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

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    • plasterers bristol

      That is brillient interview….I always stay away from fizzy drinks…And iv’e always known theres no difference in diet or odrinary to be honest………Plus i like my teeth to much…..#simon

    • Don Keyes

      No nutritionist worth their salt is ever going to generically “recommend” soda, and I get that completely. But the truth is, a few diet sodas every day will not rot your teeth, or make you fat – as long as you don’t over-compensate with REAL sweets later on. If diet drinks actually satisfy your cravings, it can be a very useful diet aid. Most of the other issues she brings up, with soda in general, are things that people with specific histories or tendencies should try to avoid, sure – but the average person just doesn’t have to worry about them.

      You can always just drink water, if you want to remain totally safe and consume no calories. Gee, what fun. You can only deny yourself for so long – then you’ll lose your will and will return to gorging yourself, as before. For some people, diet sodas provide just enough “sweetness” to satisfy them – but a nutritionist just isn’t ever going to say so here, to the general public, without a personal consultation first. Just the way it is.

    • Lisa

      This article raises unnecessary and unwarranted alarm about a number of products that can all be part of a balanced diet. As a fellow dietitian, I am surprised by Ms. Slayton’s comments, which are just not grounded in the available science. Weight gain is caused by energy imbalance – there is nothing unique about the calories from soda. As members of the health community, we should reinforce the importance of balancing the calories we consumer with those we expend.
      Unfortunately this interview causes further confusion among consumers about everything from obesity to caffeine to HFCS.

      When it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, suggesting that individuals cut just one item from their diet is no solution, particularly for a problem as complex as obesity. Furthermore, diet soft drinks have been proven to be effective in helping maintain a healthy weight. Importantly, soft drinks and their no- and low-calorie alternatives are refreshing and safe. That is the key message your readers should know.

      Lisa Katic, R.D.

    • mmpd

      I think this is a great interview — quick, sharp and to the point. No bets are hedged, she comes right out and tells us what we already know, deep down — soda is not good for us, whether it is regular or diet. We can all stand to hear that message again. I don’t see how any registered dietician could state otherwise.

    • Liza Graves

      Thank you for this! I had horrible headaches with diet coke and gave them up and have been better for it ever since!

    • Lauren Slayton

      Great comments. I think, for better or worse, when asked you’re going to get my take on whether I feel you should eat/drink something or not. While I don’t think a soda a day will likely kill you, I don’t think we should drink soda. I find the people who say this is severe and life needs to be fun (I have fun I promise) are usually soda drinkers. I say to clients…do you want your kids drinking soda? Diet soda? OK so why do you. Hmn

    • Derek

      @Lisa Katic, R.D. – Can’t believe you are a dietitian. If you were, then you would know that the way HFCS is processed in the body is part of the problem with drinking soda’s and it’s link to obesity. If you recomment soda or HFCS as part of a ‘balanced diet’, then you need to choose a new career.

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