Much has been made of diet soft drinks being unhealthier than their predecessors and carcinogenic (causes cancer in humans), but is this actually the case?
The issue that we face when coming up with a rational answer to this questions is that we are often challenging peoples’ beliefs – not logic or knowledge. Those who preach the message as “chemicals” or “processed” being bad for you often do so without hesitation, and with a disregard to the actual evidence available presently.
When dieting or restricting caloric intake, a diet soft drink or low calorie sweetened drink can be a good option; to not only satisfy your cravings but also reduce the total amount of calories that would otherwise be consumed.
You are probably thinking – “Surely these diet drinks are bad for me as they are not natural?” We wouldn’t blame anyone for coming to these conclusions as there is so much marketing behind how bad these are for you and the links to diseases from big companies wanting to charge excessive prices for their “natural” products.
This article is not a prescription or a challenge to your beliefs; it is merely an evidence based approach to looking at artificial sweeteners and health consequences (or lack of in this case) from consuming these chemicals.
So, what does the evidence suggest?
There are no studies that indicate any long-term health risks from drinking diet drinks. Diet drinks (defined as calorie free carbonated beverages sweetened with aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame-potassium, or other non-caloric or minimally caloric sweeteners) are not harmful to health, well-being or body composition. Current research that attempts to link diet drinks with health issues, did not have equal caloric consumption – i.e. this was not controlled between study groups. Excess caloric consumption has a direct impact with many health issues; such as heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, etc.
In fact, when looking at all of the “popular” studies that try to link health issues with sweeteners, they will usually be a correlative study (correlation does not equal causation), an animal study (can have some legitimacy but not much) and also use a high volume of sweetener(s) that a human could not realistically consume.
For instance, the main study which brought sweeteners into the limelight of the ‘clean-eaters’ was the work of Soffritti, et al. 2005. He tried to make a link between aspartame inducing lymphomas (cancerous growths) and leukaemia in rats. Now, not only is our physiology and digestive function different to these animals, but the amount given to the rat was a human equivalent of drinking 2,083 cans of a diet drink! A human would drown themselves and flush all of their electrolytes out of their body causing death before we are able to see if the sweeteners cause cancer at that quantity.
What should we take from this?
I do not suggest that you consume 10L of diet coke per day, but I urge people to actually read the literature and take a common sense approach. A can of diet coke a day to curb your appetite or help you stay on track with your diet is fine in my view.
- Soffritti M, Belpoggi F, Esposti DD, Lambertini L. Aspartame induces lymphomas and leukaemias in rats. European Journal of Oncology2005; 10(2):107–116.
- Lim U, Subar AF, Mouw T, et al. Consumption of aspartame-containing beverages and incidence of hematopoietic and brain malignancies. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention2006; 15(9):1654–1659.
- Kaplowitz GJ, An update on the dangers of soda pop. Dent Assist(2011)
- Gardener H, et al. Diet Soft Drink Consumption is Associated with an Increased Risk of Vascular Events in the Northern Manhattan Study. J Gen Intern Med. (2012)