Diet sodas are popular drinks around the world, especially among people who want to reduce their sugar or calorie intake .
Instead of sugar, artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, cyclamates, saccharin, acesulfame-k or sucralose, are used to sweeten them.
Almost every popular sugary drink on the market has a "light" or "diet" version - Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Pepsi Max, Sprite Zero, etc.
Diet sodas were first introduced in the 1950s for people with diabetes, although they were later marketed to people trying to control their weight or reduce their sugar intake .
Although they contain no sugar or calories, the health effects of diet drinks and artificial sweeteners are controversial.
Diet soda is not nutritious
Diet soda is basically a mixture of carbonated water, artificial or natural sweetener, colorings, flavorings and other food additives .
It usually contains very few or no calories and no significant nutrition. For example, a 354 ml can of Diet Coke contains no calories, sugar, fat or protein and 40 mg of sodium .
However, not all sodas that use artificial sweeteners are low calorie or sugar free. Some use sugar and sweetener together. For example, a can of Coca-Cola Life, which contains the natural sweetener stevia , contains 90 calories and 24 grams of sugar .
Although recipes differ from brand to brand, some common diet soda ingredients include:
- Sparkling water. Whereas carbonated water can occur in nature, most sodas are made by dissolving carbon dioxide in pressurized water .
- Sweeteners. These include the artificial sweeteners currents , such as aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, or a plant-based sweetener like stevia, which are 200 to 13,000 times sweeter than regular sugar .
- Acids. Certain acids, such as citric, malic, and phosphoric acid, are used to add acidity to soft drinks. They are also linked to the erosion of tooth enamel .
- Colors. The most commonly used colors are carotenoids, anthocyanins, and caramels .
- The flavours. Many types of natural juices or artificial flavors are used in diet sodas, including fruits, berries, herbs, and cola .
- Conservatives. These help diet sodas last longer on supermarket shelves. A commonly used preservative is potassium benzoate .
- Vitamins and minerals. Some diet soda manufacturers add vitamins and minerals to market their products as healthier, calorie-free alternatives.
- Caffeine. Just like regular sodas, many diet sodas contain caffeine . A can of Diet Coke contains 46 mg of caffeine, while a can of Pepsi Max contains 35 mg .
The effects on weight loss are contradictory
Because diet sodas are generally calorie-free, it would be natural to assume that they might help lose weight . However, research suggests the association may not be so simple.
Several observational studies have shown that the use of artificial sweeteners and the consumption of large amounts of diet soda are associated with an increased risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome .
Scientists have suggested that diet sodas can increase appetite by stimulating hunger hormones, altering sweet taste receptors, and triggering dopaminergic responses in the brain .
Since diet sodas do not contain calories , these reactions may lead to higher consumption of sugary or high-calorie foods, leading to weight gain. However, evidence for this is inconsistent in human studies .
Another theory suggests that the correlation between diet sodas and weight gain can be explained by people with poor eating habits drinking more of them. The weight gain they experience may be caused by their existing eating habits – not by diet sodas .
Experimental studies do not support the claim that diet sodas cause weight gain . In fact, these studies have shown that replacing sugary drinks with diet sodas can lead to weight loss .
One study had overweight participants drink 710ml of diet soda or water daily for 1 year. At the end of the study, the diet soft drink group had experienced an average weight loss of 6.21 kg, compared to 2.5 kg in the water group .
However, to add confusion, there is evidence of bias in the scientific literature. Industry-sponsored studies of artificial sweeteners have been shown to have more favorable results than non-industry studies, which may compromise the validity of their findings .
Overall, higher quality research is needed to determine the true effects of diet soda on weight loss .
Some studies link diet soda to diabetes and heart disease
Although diet sodas contain no calories, sugar or fat, they have been linked to the development of type 2 diabetes and heart disease in several studies.
Research has shown that just one serving of an artificially sweetened beverage per day is associated with an 8-13% higher risk of type 2 diabetes .
A study of 64,850 women showed that artificially sweetened drinks were associated with a 21% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. However, it was still half the risk associated with regular sugary drinks. Other studies have observed similar results.
Conversely, a recent study found that diet sodas are not associated with an increased risk of diabetes. Additionally, another study concluded that any association could be explained by participants' existing health status, changes in weight, and body mass index .
Diet soft drinks have also been linked to increased risks of high blood pressure and heart disease.
A review of four studies involving 227,254 people found that for every serving of artificially sweetened drink per day, there is a 9% increased risk of high blood pressure. Other studies have found similar results .
Additionally, one study linked diet sodas to a small increased risk of stroke, but this was only based on observational data .
Because most of the studies were observational, it may be that the association could be explained in another way. It's possible that people who were already at risk for diabetes and high blood pressure chose to drink more diet soda .
More direct experimental research is needed to determine if there is a true causal relationship between diet soft drinks and increased blood sugar or blood pressure.
Diet soda and kidney health
Consumption of diet soft drinks has been associated with an increased risk of chronic kidney disease.
A recent study analyzed the diets of 15,368 people and found that the risk of developing end-stage kidney disease increased with the number of glasses of diet soda consumed per week.
Compared to those who drank less than one drink per week, people who drank more than seven drinks of diet soda per week had nearly double the risk of developing kidney disease .
One suggested cause for kidney damage is the high phosphorus content of soda, which can increase the acid load on the kidneys .
However, it has also been suggested that people who consume large amounts of diet soda may do so to offset other poor diet and lifestyle factors that may independently contribute to the development of kidney disease.
Interestingly, studies looking at the effects of diet sodas on the development of kidney stones have shown mixed results.
An observational study noted that drinkers of diet soft drinks have a slightly increased risk of developing kidney stones, but the risk was much lower than the risk associated with drinking the drinks. regular soft drinks . Additionally, this study was not supported by other research .
Another study reported that the high citrate and malate content of some diet sodas may help treat kidney stones, especially in people with low urinary pH and uric acid stones. However, further research and human studies are needed .
They are linked to premature birth and childhood obesity.
Consumption of diet soft drinks during pregnancy has been linked to certain negative outcomes, including premature delivery and childhood obesity.
A Norwegian study of 60,761 pregnant women found that drinking artificially sweetened and sugar-containing drinks was associated with an 11% higher risk of preterm labor .
Previous Danish research supports these findings. A study of nearly 60,000 women found that women who consumed one serving of diet soda per day were 1.4 times more likely to give birth prematurely than those who did not .
However, recent research involving 8,914 women in England found no association between diet cola and preterm birth. However, the authors admitted that the study may not have been large enough and was limited to diet cola .
It is important to note that these studies were observational only and offer no explanation of how diet soft drinks may contribute to preterm labor.
Additionally, the consumption of artificially sweetened beverages during pregnancy is significantly associated with an increased risk of childhood obesity.
One study found that daily consumption of diet drinks during pregnancy doubled the risk of an overweight baby at 1 year .
Further research is needed to analyze the potential biological causes and long-term health risks of children exposed to artificially sweetened sodas in the womb.
There are several other documented health effects of diet sodas, including:
- May reduce fatty liver disease. Some studies have shown that replacing regular soda with diet soda can reduce fat around the liver. Other studies have found no effect .
- No increase in reflux. Despite anecdotal reports, soft drinks have not been shown to worsen the reflux or heartburn . However, the research is mixed and more experimental studies are needed .
- No strong link to cancer . Most research on artificial sweeteners and diet sodas has found no evidence that it causes cancer. A slight increase in lymphoma and multiple myeloma in men has been reported, but results were low .
- Gut Microbiome Changes . Artificial sweeteners can alter the gut flora , leading to reduced blood sugar control and potentially increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes. One study found that the six artificial sweeteners tested damaged the gut microbiome in various ways. Another found that how people's gut flora reacted to artificial sweeteners was highly individualized .
- Increased risk of osteoporosis . Diet and regular cola are associated with loss of bone mineral density in women, but not in men. The caffeine and phosphorus in cola can interfere with normal calcium absorption .
- Tooth decay . Like regular soda, diet soda is associated with dental erosion due to its acidic pH. This comes from adding acids, such as malic, citric, or phosphoric acid, for flavor .
- linked to depression . Observational studies found higher rates of depression in those who drank four or more diets or regular sodas a day. However, experiments are needed to determine if diet soda is a cause .
While some of these findings are interesting, more experimental research is needed to determine if diet sodas cause these issues or if the findings are due to chance or other factors.
Research on diet sodas has produced a lot of conflicting evidence.
One explanation for this conflicting information is that most research is observational. This means that they observe trends, but there is a lack of information on whether diet soda consumption is a cause or simply associated with the real cause.
Therefore, although some research seems quite alarming, higher quality experimental studies are needed before any concrete conclusions can be drawn about the health effects of diet soda .
Either way, one thing is certain: diet soda does not add any nutritional value to your diet.
So if you're looking to replace regular sodas in your diet, other options may be better than diet sodas. Next time try an alternative like milk, coffee , black or herbal tea or fruit infused water.