Each week, MyHealthNewsDaily asks the experts to answer questions about your health.
This week, we asked dietitians, doctors and epidemiologists: Is diet soda bad for you? Here's what they said.
“There is no reason, that if an individual likes to consume diet soda, that they should not. However, we really want to encourage nutrient-rich liquids.
Diet soda is a better choice than regular soda because regular soda has empty calories that offer no nutritional benefit. It would be a better choice to choose a beverage with nutritional benefits, such as a glass of low-fat milk or 100 percent fruit juice, if we're talking about calories. Ideally, if you want to consume something with zero calories, water is your best choice.”
– Keri Gans, registered dietitian, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and author of “The Small Change Diet” (Simon & Schuster, 2011)
“Right now, you've seen dietary guidelines that the No. 1 source of added sugars in the diet is sugar-containing soda, soft drinks, fruit drinks and energy drinks. We're getting too many calories from added sugars, so we need to look at reducing the amount we're taking in.
Diet drinks are for people who choose to have a soft drink , and enjoy it without added sugar. In moderation, they're fine and can be consumed. They can help reduce the amount of added sugars that Americans are consuming.”
– Joan Salge Blake, registered dietitian and Clinical Associate Professor at Boston University
“We recently published an abstract that showed daily consumption of diet soda was associated with an increased risk of strokes , heart attacks, and heart and blood vessel diseases. So based on our research, it looks like, at least for the blood vessels, diet soda is not good for people.
There've been other studies that have looked at this and not found the same result after they accounted for other confounding risk factors.
So I wouldn't say our study has proven there's a causative link, but what it does, in my mind, is raise the question that there might be some risk here that we need to study further.
There's this idea that people who drink sugar-sweetened beverages have an increased risk of diabetes and obesity, and it's becoming an epidemic. So, one might suggest that perhaps you can avoid this by drinking diet soda. And we would argue that you may not be entirely correct — there's still risk associated with diet soda, which could be due to other factors that are associated with drinking diet soda.”
– Dr. Mitchell S. V. Elkind, associate chairman of Neurology for Clinical Research and Training at Columbia University in New York
“Diet soda is not a health food. In fact, it's not a food at all, it's simply a slurry of chemicals, a number of which may have deleterious effects on the body.”
[Phosphoric acid may decrease bone mineral density and erode tooth enamel. Caramel coloring in colas contains substances which have been associated with increased risk of a number of chronic diseases of aging. And the safety of artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame and sucralose, is debatable.]
“Individuals vary widely in their reactions to these substances… and because of the very real possibility that irreversible cumulative effects [occur]… I'm convinced that we're in the middle of a very large-scale experiment, and that the whole story of the potential impact of diet sodas on health may not be known for years to come.
But if you think about it, why should we think that we can pour large volumes of artificial chemicals into our bodies day after day and year after year, and never suffer any consequences from them?”
– Sharon Fowler, epidemiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
“It's probably not good for you, and there's a lot of studies that point in that direction, though there isn't anything definitive to say yes or no.
There are three subsets of issues with drinking diet soda. The first is that our hunger and eating pathways were developed to associate sweetness with calories. So when you start [separating] sweetness from calories, you're putting the whole [hunger-regulation system] out of balance. It may sabotage weight loss, actually.
The second thing is, that it reverts our taste buds back to childhood, in a sense. Artificial sweeteners are often hundreds of times sweeter than table sugar , so your brain just gets used to having this extremely sweet food.
The third issue is we don’t know what this will do long-term. This is my personal theory: Society is getting more obese, and we're also drinking more diet soda than ever. … This is very theoretical, but it just raises the question to me, as a physician and as an epidemiologist: Could there be a link between diet soda intake and the populations gaining weight by altering our taste and confusing our sense of hunger and satiety? We don't know.”
– Dr. John Spangler, professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina
Pass it on: Diet soda has fewer calories and sugar than regular soda, and some experts say its fine in moderation. Others point out that diet soda can increase the risk of stroke and metabolic syndrome, and its long-term effects are unclear.
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Maria is our expert for medicine, fitness and general health. Her contributions are particularly convincing through completeness, accuracy and her own personal experience. Maria also writes for other health magazines, which has enabled her to build up her expert status.