When going on a diet, people try to cut calories in any way they can, and that includes switching from regular soda to diet soda. Consuming a soft drink with little to no calories can't be too bad for you, right?
Many people think that drinking diet soda can help you lose weight, and conversely, there are many critics who say that diet soda can have harmful effects on your health. So what is the real truth about diet soda?
Diet Soda Sweeteners
If you look at the nutrition label on a can of soda, you'll see a long list of ingredients, many of which you may not be familiar with. Here are some of the most controversial ingredients:
- Aspartame: Aspartame is one of five artificial sweeteners that are approved by the FDA. Critics claim that it can wreak serious havoc on the body by causing brain damage, addiction and even birth defects. Aspartame has been proven to have adverse effects on those suffering from phenylketonuria (PKU), a genetic disorder that makes the body unable to break down the amino acid, phenylalanine. Since aspartame raises the level of phenylalanine in the brain, people suffering from PKU must avoid the artificial sweetener and the products that contain it.
- Phenylalanine: Phenylalanine, the amino acid that is found in aspartame, is also an ingredient in diet soda. According to Katherine Zeratsky, a Mayo Clinic nutritionist, phenylalanine, and for that matter, aspartame, should be avoided if you take medications that contain levodopa or neuroleptics, or if you have tardive dyskinesia, sleep or anxiety disorder, or a mental health condition.
- Caramel: Caramel food coloring is what gives soda its brown color. However, in recent years, consumer advocate groups have called for the FDA to ban caramel, claiming that it contains two carcinogens: 2-MEI and 4-MEI.
- Benzene: Benzene is a chemical typically found in plastics, dyes and gasoline, and can cause cancer in humans. However, studies from the FDA have found that soft drinks only contain trace amounts of benzene.
There are many rumors about the dangerous effects of diet soda, including the claim that soda's carbonation can deplete your bones of calcium. The truth is that the phosphates and other acids can deplete the bones of calcium, not the carbonation. Here are some of the other dangers that diet soda is attributed to:
- Metabolic syndrome: This syndrome is typically caused by a conglomerate of health factors (belly fat, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar) that contribute to an increased risk of developing heart disease or diabetes. Researchers say that drinking diet soda, or even regular soda, can increase your risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
- Weight gain: Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners have actually been linked to weight gain. Studies show that the taste of aspartame tricks the brain into thinking it's still hungry. This increase in appetite can cause people to eat more.
- Osteoporosis: Because those pesky phosphates deplete bones of calcium, it can increase the risk of developing osteoporosis.
On the other hand, many researchers say that it's not time to put down the diet soda, just yet. They assert that there just isn't enough evidence to conclusively link diet soda to these health problems since there could be other factors that are causing them as well.
- Metabolic syndrome: Researchers at Duke University say that there simply isn't enough evidence to support the association between diet soda and metabolic syndrome. The link is only circumstantial and further research is needed.
- Weight gain: Researchers say that there also isn't enough evidence to prove that diet soda causes weight gain. They suggest the possibility that overweight people who are drinking diet soda could be skewing the numbers. They also suggest that people who do drink diet soda compensate for the saved calories with other high-calorie treats.
- Osteoporosis: Although phosphates do swipe calcium from bones, there may be other underlying factors. Soda drinkers simply may not be incorporating enough calcium and vitamin D into their diet.
Healthier Alternatives to Diet Soda
There are many organic sodas on the market that contain natural sweeteners and no artificial colors or preservatives. These brands include:
- Blue Sky
- Jones Organics
- Santa Cruz
Even though these products are organic, that doesn't mean they're great for you, either. While they are a better alternative to diet soda, they still contain a lot of sugars and probably won't help you keep the weight off.
If you're looking to completely drop the soda habit, here are a few healthy alternatives that you can try:
- Flavored sparkling water
- Fruit slices and seltzer water
- Juice and seltzer water
- Green tea
- Tonic and lime
The Bottom Line
While many suspect that diet soda is bad for you, more research is needed to prove if any of these dangers are true. Diet soda is certainly not a weight loss supplement, so it's important to keep consumption at a minimum. If you are looking for a healthier alternative, there are many other drinks you can reach for instead of that diet soft drink.