Millions of Americans rely on artificial sweeteners to minimize their sugar intake. And really, who can blame them? Sugar has absolutely no nutritional value and can be downright dangerous. In fact, the over-consumption of sugar can be blamed for countless health conditions ranging from diabetes and heart disease to cavities and obesity (and let’s not forget obesity-related diseases like stroke, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and various cancers).
One of the most widely consumed artificially sweetened products on the market is diet soda. The food and diet industries have fooled much of the population into believing that these calorie-free beverages are the superior choice for our waistlines and overall health. And it makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, zero calories means less weight gain, so who wouldn’t want to indulge in a can or bottle—or two—a day?
Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Diet sodas are proving to be just as harmful as their sugar-laden counterparts. Here are just a few reasons why.
One of the telltale signs of heavy methamphetamine or crack cocaine use is rotting teeth. And, of course, regular sodas (and other very sugary food products) also cause tooth decay. But who would have ever thought that sugar-free diet soda could have the same exact effect on oral health? Indeed, a shocking study published earlier this year found this to be the case.1-2
In this study, the lead researcher observed that a woman in her 30s who drank two liters of diet soda every day for three to five years experienced the same tooth decay seen in a 29-year-old meth addict and a 51-year-old habitual crack cocaine user. (All three participants came from similar socioeconomic backgrounds and admitted to poor oral hygiene habits, as well as not having regular dental exams.)
According to the lead researcher, the severe dental erosion was caused by the extreme acidity of their “drug of choice.” The illegal drugs are naturally acidic—particularly methamphetamine, which requires the use of highly corrosive materials in the manufacturing process—while sodas contain high levels of citric and phosphoric acids. All of these acidic substances prove to be disastrous for the teeth.
Pack on the Pounds
Ironically, these zero-calorie fizzy beverages can actually cause you to gain weight! It all starts with how the brain processes and the body responds to these super-sweet sugar replacements.
In one study, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to evaluate the brain responses young adults had to diet (saccharin-sweetened) soda versus regular (sugar-sweetened) soda. They found that those who drank the diet soda experienced much greater activation of the reward-processing centers of the brain.
In addition, the diet soda drinkers who consumed a greater number of diet sodas had reduced caudate head activation—stimulation of neurons in the brain that are associated with emotions, memory and learning—suggesting that “there are alterations in reward processing of sweet taste in individuals who regularly consume diet soda, and this is associated with the degree of consumption.”3
In other words, artificial sweeteners increase our desire for more fattening sugars, starches and carbohydrates, so by drinking diet soda, you’re more likely to consume additional sweets to calm your cravings. To add fuel to the fire, artificial sweeteners trick our bodies into thinking more sugar is on the way, which leads to the production of more insulin—and more visceral fat.
And speaking of insulin…diet soda has been linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. This is particularly disturbing considering so many diabetics use artificial sweeteners and drink diet sodas regularly in their efforts to avoid sugar.
In a recent Japanese study, researchers measured the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and diet sodas in 2,037 men. They received annual medical exams over a seven-year period to test for diabetes.
During the study period, 170 men developed diabetes, and the researchers found that the diet soda consumption was a significant risk factor. They concluded, “Diet soda is not always effective at preventing type 2 diabetes, even though it is a zero-calorie drink.”4
Another crossover study evaluated the effects of sucralose (Splenda®) on the metabolic response of 17 obese participants. The volunteers underwent two different glucose tolerance tests—one after consuming a sucralose-sweetened beverage and another after consuming plain water (the control).
The results showed that, compared to control, the sucralose caused higher glucose and insulin levels, and a greater peak insulin secretion rate. In conclusion, these researchers wrote, “These data demonstrate that sucralose affects the glycemic and insulin responses to an oral glucose load in obese people who do not normally consume [artificial sweeteners].”5
Ditch the Diet Sodas
It should go without saying that we advise that you completely eliminate all artificially sweetened beverages from your diet.
There are plenty of tasty low-calorie or calorie-free alternatives to diet sodas. Using sparkling water as your base, add a splash of freshly squeezed lemon, lime or orange. Or create a 75-25 mixture of sparkling water and cranberry, blueberry or pomegranate juice—not only refreshing, but rich in antioxidants.
Another very healthy zero-calorie alternative is white, green, red or even black tea sweetened with stevia or xylitol—both 100-percent natural sugar alternatives that actually have very positive health benefits.
- Bassiouny MA. Gen Dent. 2013 Mar-Apr;61(2):38-44.
- Academy of General Dentistry press release. www.agd.org/media/145594/soda_meth_mouth.pdf.
- Green E and Murphy C. Physiol Behav. 2012 Nov 5;107(4):560-7.
- Sakurai M, et al. Eur J Nutr. 2013 Apr 11. [Epub ahead of print.]
- Pepino MY, et al. Diabetes Care. 2013 April 30. [Epub ahead of print.]