Paging Dr. Frischer: Diet Soda

Diet sodas have long come under scrutiny. Are they a healthy alternative to “regular” soda? Are they harmful?

A recent statement from Coca Cola isn’t surprising: “People have enjoyed drinking a Coca-Cola for more than 129 years. Like all soft drinks, it is perfectly safe to drink and can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet and lifestyle.”

It’s common knowledge that until 1903, Coca Cola’s recipe included actual coca leaf. John Pemberton, a morphine-addicted pharmacist, formulated the original recipe. When coca leaf was removed from the formula, Coca Cola needed to create a new formula with addictive properties. History demonstrates just how successful they were!

It wasn’t until the late 1950’s that diet colas were introduced in the United States. By the 1980’s, they became mainstream and profitable. Originally, the target market was women who were watching their weight. Currently, the marketing strategy includes men and children as well, as a “healthier” alternative to regular sugar soda. One tagline states: “Regret Nothing: no sugar, no calories.”

The perceived benefit of drinking diet soda instead of regular soda is that we are consuming far fewer calories. Diet soda contains no high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, or other forms of processed sugar. The artificial sweetener in most diet soda is aspartame, which is indeed calorie-free. Some, especially those who don’t like to drink plain water, find diet sodas to be a good source of hydration.

While diet soda is a source of fluid, it offers no positive nutritional or health benefits. In fact, drinking diet soda on a daily basis is associated with a long list of increased risks: stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis and greater risk of bone fracture (due to high levels of phosphoric acid), hypertension, kidney disease, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, type-2 diabetes, nausea, dizziness, and migraine headaches. The most surprising correlation, however, shows that diet soda may actually contribute to weight *gain*!

Why? Research has focused on artificial sweeteners leading to overconsumption of other sweet foods. The theory is that diet sweeteners trick the body and disrupt its natural ability to regulate calorie intake.

Aspartame, the most commonly used sweetener in diet sodas, has been the subject of controversy since being approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1974. It remains on the EPA watch list of most hazardous chemicals.

After reviewing the data, I am in agreement with the large body of scientists who feel that diet soda is not helpful, and likely is harmful to our health. While roughly 20% of us consume diet soda regularly, consumption has been on a steady decline, while the consumption of bottled water has been rising. Hydrating our bodies with water, milk or vegetable juices is far more healthful. If you enjoy fizz in your drinks, try carbonated water.

My recommendation is to avoid diet sodas entirely.