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Why Stop Drinking So Much Soda? continued...

So is simply switching to diet soda the answer? Not necessarily, some experts believe.

Popkin has said there's no proof that artificial sweeteners are bad for you, but because the data are slim, the Beverage Guidance Panel was uneasy about recommending them.

Michael Jacobson, executive director of the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), suggests that people who drink diet sodas should choose those sweetened with Splenda when possible.

Of the alternative sweeteners used in soda, CSPI gives the "avoid" label to Acesulfame-K, aspartame, and saccharin, but the "appears to be safe" label to sucralose (Splenda). All these sweeteners have received FDA approval. And, in a 100-page report published in Critical Reviews in Toxicology in September, an expert panel said it was confident aspartame poses no health risks. But CSPI believes those on its "avoid" list need more or better testing.

Still, while Jacobson believes "less is better" when it comes to alternative sweeteners, he concedes that drinking diet soda is better than gulping down the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar -- which is what you'll get in a can of regular soda.

And just how do you go about kicking a soda habit? If you want to stop drinking so much soda, it basically comes down to four steps, according to the experts:

1. Make Up Your Mind. You have to make up your mind to give it up, notes Jacobson. Even if you're just trying to cut back on your soda consumption, it can take a firm commitment to make it happen.

2.Switch to Diet Sodas. Gradually make the switch to diet sodas, suggests Paul Rozin, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. "Just make a small decrease at a time, like one sugared soda a day," he says in an email interview. If you're drinking much more than one soda a day, work toward decreasing the amount of diet sodas you drink as well -- eventually.

3. Go Caffeine-Free. Popkin and Jacobson believe that caffeine, and the fact that it is mildly addictive, is part of the reason soda is such a hard habit to break. Look for caffeine-free soft drinks, and gradually decrease the number of caffeinated drinks you have each day as you work toward kicking the soda habit completely. If you're addicted to the caffeine in soda, you're really kicking two habits -- the soda habit and the caffeine habit. "It takes a few weeks to truly forget the craving," Popkin says.

4. Stock Up on Alternatives. Keep plenty of tasty non-soda drinks on hand to make giving up soda as convenient as possible.

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