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Modern Mythology: Diet Soda- Saviour or Sinner?

Rumours abound about the detrimental health effects of drinking diet (sugar-free) sodas, such as Pepsi Max or Diet Coke. Will they bloat you or make you fat? What crap do they put in there, anyway, and is it safe? I thought that it was high time Teen Skepchick sorted fact from fiction in the case of: THE EVIL DIET SOFT DRINKS!

 The issue of diet drinks is one particularly close to my heart… Or more, my digestive system. Because I drink a lot of diet soda. Like, a lot. I’m drinking a Pepsi Max this second. As far as I know, a lot of teens (and adults, actually) are the very same- after all; it’s sugar free and virtually calorie free, so why drink the sugar-loaded full-blown counterparts? It might be a different story, however, if drinking a lot of diet soda is a cause for cancer or heart disease or obesity- so I figured we should check this one out for ourselves.

In order to give a full answer to the question of yay/nay diet drinks, it’s necessary to look at a few different aspects:

1. Will it make you obese? Because obesity leads to other health problems, and those can be nasty.

2. What’s actually in it? Are the ingredients themselves going to harm you?

3. Is there a healthier option, or are they as good as everything else?

First question first; and it’s hard to give a straight answer on this one. Drinking diet sodas will not make you fat, on their own. They’re usually <1kcal per 100mls, and weight loss/gain is based almost solely on calories in versus calories out. There is no mechanism by which it could cause you to put on weight-except for minimal water weight- so in that sense no, it won’t make you fat. On the other hand, it has been found that people who drink two or more diet sodas a day could gain weight up to five times as fast as those who never drink it. This seems mainly to be caused by the fact that some of the sweeteners in diet drinks distort your appetite, causing you to crave loadsa sugary goodness (badness). This isn’t helped by a lot of sweeteners tasting sweeter than sugar itself, causing us to seek out more ways to fill our cravings. I.E. More food. So they may contribute to obesity, if you’re consuming them and not watching the calories that you eat throughout the day.

Second, now- what on Earth is in this stuff? Well, presumably it won’t be exactly the same for every diet drink, but they’re predominantly carbonated water- of course- along with a bunch of colours, flavours, sweeteners and preservatives. Sounds nasty and chemical-filled, but these don’t tend to do you any harm. “But wait!” I hear you cry. “What about ASPARTAME!?” Ah. Of course. I forgot about aspartame. It’s a very common chemical sweetener, which is in the 600ml bottle of Pepsi Max I just tanned, along with most other diet drinks. The safety of aspartame, however, has been widely disputed. As ever, we look to the evidence: A 2007 medical review on the safety of aspartame for consumption showed that aspartame is completely safe for consumption at the levels found in the products in question. Unless you have phenylketonuria; a fairly serious disorder in which the body fails to break down an amino acid called phenylalanine. If you don’t, however, it’s likely that you’re safe.

And lastly! For whatever reason, is diet soda just not very good for you? Perhaps. It has no nutritional value whatsoever, so there’s no benefit to drinking it. You certainly won’t get your vits and mins from a Diet 7Up. But then again, it’s not bad for you, either- no sugar means no tooth decay, no calories means no weight gain. I drink it for a little sweetness-fix, and simply because I like the taste and delicious fizziness. If you don’t allow yourself to graze on calorific snacks after drinking it, it shouldn’t have detrimental effects on your health. As with everything, take it in moderation and you have nothing at all to worry about. And if any niggling worry remains- drink water. It does the same job, with no negatives at all.

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

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4 Comments

  1. January 23, 2012 at 9:52 pm —

    “As far as I know, a lot of teens (and adults, actually) are the very same- after all; it’s sugar free and virtually calorie free, so why drink the sugar-loaded full-blown counterparts?”

    Because diet soda is gross, and sugary soda is the nectar of the gods 🙂

  2. January 24, 2012 at 6:52 am —

    You left out one important, tooth damage. When you have young healthy gums its not too big of a problem, although the acidic soda can still damage the enamel on your teeth. But once you develop any gum recession, soda can cause serious damage to any of the exposed roots and can lead to eventual tooth loss. This is the main reason I have limited my soda consumption, diet or otherwise.

    • January 31, 2012 at 5:13 am —

      Thanks Ziggy66,I was just about to say the same. Carbonic acid, bad for the teeth!

  3. January 31, 2012 at 10:50 am —

    Hm. You address the calories in side of the equation, but what about calories out? Is it possible that diet sodas somehow suppress the basal metabolic rate? Or perhaps if you drink diet soda you’re more lethargic and less apt to expend energy? It’s frustrating when people count calories and don’t go any further, because “calories in” and “calories out” aren’t independent variables.

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