When it comes to our divided nation, this topic is very far up on the list. Ever since diet soda was introduced to the public there existed controversy about its healthfulness. Who can blame us though? One day the headline on the news reads “New study finds diet soda linked to increased dementia and stroke risk”, and the next day it reads “Diet soda might be the next breakthrough cure for obesity”.
For those who don’t stay up to date on the latest studies and research findings (which is about 99% of the population), it is much simpler to trust the daily news. Unfortunately for the majority of the population, the news doesn’t always tell the whole story and in some cases blows a tiny theory/study out of proportion. In the case of diet soda this is exactly the case, with old and potentially false claims still running the show and grabbing the headlines for more views and clicks. In reality diet soda has no solid evidence that it is either healthy or unhealthy, but is heavily leading on the side of not inherently either. Read on to learn the true facts about diet soda and what it does to your body…
What Does The Science Say
To understand if diet soda really is unhealthy, it is important to know the ingredients that are being accused. The most popular ingredient in diet soda that has stirred controversy is its sweeteners, which in place of sugar makes the beverage virtually calorie free. From aspartame, to sucralose (not to be confused with sucrose or table sugar), to acesulfame K, these sweeteners have been around for decades and while mimicking the flavor and sweetness of sugar, pass through the body largely unchanged, therefore not being broken down into calories. One of the claims against diet soda is the ability for the body to react the same to non-calorie sweeteners as it does to sugar, by spiking insulin, increasing the risk of diabetes and eventually obesity. Despite this claim, research has shown time and time again that artificial sweeteners do not spike insulin and will not make you gain weight/develop weight related complications like sugary soda will. Put simply, diet soda when swapped for regular soda in a otherwise consistent diet will result in some form of weight loss and health benefit in varying degrees depending on how much regular soda was consumed daily.
The other big concern surrounding diet soda and health problems is a very overblown correlation with being carcinogenic. This correlation stems from a few studies done on rodents that were fed aspartame and developed types of cancer. While the proof was there, the amount of sweetener given to the rodents was way more than any human can consume in one day. It is also important to mention that studies done on mice and rats do not always translate to human studies which is exactly the case with sweeteners as no evidence has ever been shown to link them to cancer in people. The only group of people that should worry about aspartame causing cancer are those who suffer from phenylketonuria (PKU), a rare genetic disorder that does not allow the body to process the amino acid phenylalanine (aspartame is made of this amino acid). This 0.01% of the population should avoid aspartame but the other 99.99% of the world should not fear this or any other artificial sweetener in moderate doses. Even in extreme doses (more than 20 cans of diet soda a day), the worst symptoms that has been shown to consistently affect humans are headaches and loose stool.
The other ingredient that is found in many diet sodas that actually have a legitimate negative effect are the various acids and colorings found in the beverages. The ironic part of it is though, is that this is the only issue that isn’t widely talked about even though it is the only real concern for the general population. These acids (usually citric acid, malic acid, phosphoric acid and ascorbic acid) and artificial colorings (usually caramel) won’t throw off your body’s Ph levels or cause cancer, but they will damage your teeth when not dealt with properly. That’s right, the worst thing that will happen when you drink diet soda (and more so sugary soda) is slightly eroding/discoloring your teeth. While this is a bigger worry for children and the elderly, adults should also consciously wash their mouth out with water after drinking a diet soda (much like after eating something high in sugar) and waiting about an hour after drinking a diet soda to brush their teeth. Other than this easily treatable effect on enamel, diet sodas can be consumed in moderation by the great majority of the public without having to worry about weight gain, insulin spikes or carcinogenic properties.
Take Home Message
When it comes to reading and hearing nutrition advice in popular media, it should all be taken with a grain of salt. Most media outlets unfortunately make small and outdated studies way overblown, causing the internet to go crazy and subsequently spreading false/misread claims. In the situation of diet soda, correlation doesn’t equal causation. While it is true that most overweight and obese individuals drink diet soda, it isn’t the soda that made them that way. More than likely they are drinking diet soda in an attempt to compensate for the other factors contributing to obesity. While some might overcompensate for not drinking their calories by eating more and not losing weight, others have successfully cleaned up their diet, and lost mass amounts of weight while continuing to drink diet soda.
As for the argument that diet soda causes cancer, no human study has found conclusive evidence of this, and the rodent studies that have used way more sweetener than anybody would drink. The worst thing that might come out of drinking diet soda is slightly eroded enamel that can be remedied by drinking water afterwards. There you have it! Your definitive guide on diet soda and why it can be consumed in moderation without detriment to overall health.