Most people are familiar with the problems associated with regular sodas filled with high fructose corn syrup, but what about those diet drinks? Many love their daily sweet and fizzy beverage without the worry of calories (and, depending on the type, usually with a caffeine kick), but before you open your next bottle or pop the lid on your next can of diet soda, consider some of the information below. That calorie-free bubbly beverage may not necessarily be doing you any favors. While many of the studies noted below linking diet sodas to negative health consequences don’t necessarily prove direct causation, the findings are worth considering in seeking our best chances for optimal health. My verdict: since they’re not making us healthier, why take the risk? We’re probably better off without them!
Artificial Sweeteners in Diet Soda Are Associated with Weight Gain
Diet soda may be calorie-free, but studies have found that it won’t necessarily help you lose weight. In an epidemiological study from the School of Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio conducted over the course of about nine years and published in 2011, researchers found that diet soda drinkers had a 70 percent greater increase in waist circumference compared to those who didn’t drink diet sodas. And frequent diet soda drinkers, who said they consumed two or more diet sodas per day, experienced waist circumference increases that were 500 percent greater than those of non-diet soda drinkers. There are several hypotheses given for this — perhaps because the body gets the sweet taste but zero energy from the artificial sweeteners in the diet sodas, it throws off satiety signals and messes with the body’s normal hormonal response to food ultimately making a person crave sweet foods and eat more throughout the day? Another theory is that the sugar stand-ins in diet soda trigger insulin just like sugar, sending the body into fat storage mode and leading to weight gain. Or perhaps when people drink diet sodas without calories it is more easier to justify that double cheeseburger or extra slice of pizza? Although this type of study doesn’t prove drinking diet soda causes weight gain, it does show a correlation.
Drinking Diet Soda Has Been Associated with an Increased Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
In a University of Minnesota study published in 2009 (also here), researchers found that participants who drank one diet soda a day had a 36 percent increased risk of metabolic syndrome and a 67 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Metabolic syndrome describes a cluster of conditions (including high blood pressure, elevated glucose levels, raised cholesterol, and large waist circumference) that put people at high risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Although the research doesn’t establish causality, consumption of diet soda at least daily was associated with significantly greater risks of metabolic syndrome components and type 2 diabetes.
Aspartame Found in Many Diet Sodas Has Been Linked to Health Problems such as Headaches and Dizziness
Aspartame is the most widely used artificial sweetener in diet sodas. In studies giving it in exceedingly large amounts to rats it was shown to be a carcinogen. While the clinical evidence of danger from normal consumption of aspartame is unclear, there is a vast amount of anecdotal evidence from people linking aspartame to numerous health problems including headaches, migraines, dizziness, visual impairment, severe muscle aches, numbing of extremities, pancreatistis, high blood pressure, retinal hemorrhaging, seizures and depression. Aspartame is made up of three chemicals: aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol. When aspartame is digested it breaks down into the amino acids phenalanaline and aspartic acid plus methanol (also known as wood alcohol, which is a known poison) each of which may have toxic effects when metabolized. See this article by Dr. Joseph Mercola which explains how this occurs. Of course not everyone experiences these health issues with aspartame but better safe than sorry – I’d suggest just avoiding this chemical cocktail.
It May Ruin Your Smile Over Time
According to a case study published in the March/April 2013 Journal of Dentistry, excessive diet soda drinking could be doing harm to those pearly whites… much akin to that of heavy-hitting illegal drugs like crack cocaine or methamphetamine! The researchers compared the teeth of a cocaine-user, a methamphetamine-user, and a habitual and excessive diet soda drinker (the soda drinker drank 2 liters of diet soda daily for three to five years — to give you an idea, a 2-liter bottle of soda equals just over 5 1/2 12-ounce cans or a little more than three 20-ounce bottles, so the soda drinker was drinking about 10-11 cans or 6 20-ounce bottles per day for three to five years), and they found the same level of tooth erosion in each of them! The culprit here they claim is citric acid, which weakens and destroys tooth enamel over time. Cocaine, methamphetamine and carbonated soda all have high acid levels that can damage tooth enamel and cause tooth erosion. Of course, there are other factors to consider, but just another reason it might be advisable to cut back on that diet soda consumption and drink more water.
Cola-Based Sodas May Be Bad for Women’s Bones
In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers at Tufts University studying several thousand men and women found that the women who regularly drank cola-based sodas (all kinds, not just diet) — three or more cans per day — had almost 4 percent lower bone mineral density in their hips than women who didn’t drink soda. The research even controlled for the participants’ calcium and vitamin D intake. (Women who drank non-cola soft drinks, like Sprite or Mountain Dew, didn’t appear to have lower bone density, BUT these drinks would still have the same sugar or artificial sweeteners that should be avoided for reasons noted above.) According to the researchers, phosphoric acid, a major component in most sodas, may be to blame; according to the researchers phosphoric acid blocks the absorption of calcium and magnesium in the intestines, thereby not allowing the calcium to get into the body and strengthen the bones. And, interestingly, cola consumption was not associated with lower bone mineral density for men at the hip sites, or at the spine for either men or women. As with any epidemiological study, the results can only tell us so much. While there is no concrete evidence that an occasional cola will harm the bones, why not steer away from the colas and choose some healthy antioxidant-filled tea sweetened with some stevia (plant based sweetener) instead?
Diet Sodas May Hurt Your Heart
In an epidemiological study conducted over a ten-year period, researchers at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and Columbia University found that people who drank diet soft drinks on a daily basis were 43 percent more likely to have experienced a vascular event (stroke, heart attack or vascular death) than those who drank none. Those people who drank diet sodas less often — between once a month and six a week – and those who drank regular (non-diet) soda did not appear to have an increased risk of vascular events. While the results did suggest the association between daily diet soft drink consumption and risk for heart issues, the researchers were not sure why this was the case and said that more studies need to be conducted before definitive conclusions can be made about diet soda’s effects on health. In that case, why not take precautions and just avoid them?
Diet Soda is a Chemical Concoction with No Nutritional Value
In addition to the artificial sweeteners, diet sodas are filled with a variety of artificial flavorings, colorings and preservatives, most of which have dubious claims to safety. While you may not be taking in any calories, you’re also not swallowing anything that does your body any good either. The best no-calorie beverages instead? Plain old water is great. If it’s the fizziness you crave, try sparkling water. Or if you need some flavor, try adding a some freshly squeezed lemon juice, a few pieces of fruit or some cucumber (watermelon, strawberries and orange slices are great options). Or if it’s the caffeine, some organic green tea might do the trick as well. And you can add some stevia for sweetness. Caffeine-free herbal teas are a great choice too.
So if you’re a dedicated diet soda addict, experiment with eliminating it from your diet. I say ditch them altogether if you can – they certainly don’t help you and the long term effects are unknown.
Hope this helps you and your loved ones stay naturopathically healthy!