Diet soda can be dangerous to your health

Back in the day, when diet sodas were new on the scene, they were considered a savior for diet-conscious individuals who had become addicted to the fizzy sweet stuff. Here was an alternative to sugar-sweetened soda that tasted sweet (if harboring somewhat of a chemical aftertaste) and sparkling … and yet calorie free! No downside, right?

Well, it took some years of blissful consumer ignorance before the first studies came out that linked certain artificial sweeteners with cancer and other illnesses. Artificial sweeteners have been linked with hair loss, depression, dementia, headaches, autoimmune diseases, and behavioral disturbances. And yet, the mainstream scientific consensus is that they are acceptable in the diet and safe.

The first artificial sweetener, saccharin, was synthesized in 1879. It became popular because of its low cost of production at the time of sugar shortages during World Wars I and II. In the 1950s cyclamate was introduced, and Sweet ’N Low became a popular mixture of a blend of saccharin and cyclamate. The artificial sweetener market was shaken in the 1970s when the FDA banned cyclamate from all dietary foods in the USA because of a cancer risk found in experimental animals (other countries still allow cyclamate). In 1981 the next artificial sweetener, aspartame, marketed as Nutra-Sweet, became popular. Since then several new non-nutritive sweeteners have been developed with a promise to be more like real sugar with few calories. All have been linked to maladies ranging from brain tumors to stroke.

One of the most recent high profile studies comes from Columbia University. In the study, the investigators tracked 2,500 northern Manhattan residents who filled out questionnaires about their diet and drinking habits. After 10 years of follow-up, the study found that daily diet soda drinkers had 60 percent more strokes, heart attacks and other attacks of blood vessel diseases than other participants in the trial, even after controlling for smoking, physical activity, diet and other factors known to increase vascular-related diseases. The researchers found no increase in vascular-related events among daily drinkers of regular soda.

Aside from health, there are other reasons to avoid artificial sweeteners.  Physician and nutrition expert John McDougall, M.D., notes that studies have demonstrated that diet sodas DO NOT curb the appetite for other sweets. On the contrary: they tend to increase the psychological craving for sugary foods. He says: “Benefits from the use of artificial sweeteners are limited, in part, because they do not deliver the same hunger-satisfying capacity as white sugar. As a result, we are left seeking rewarding food—and we follow our diet soda with our favorite candy bar (made of the real thing). There is also some evidence that artificial sweeteners can increase the appetite.”

Thankfully, there are lots of options to satisfy that craving for a fizzy beverage, even if you simply must have yours on the sweet side. Here are some ideas:

  • The simple addition of ice and a slice of lemon can bring a touch of elegance to a glass of water. Plus, the lemon is a digestive aid with a mini-boost of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
  • Flavored waters, both carbonated and non-, are available in stores, or you can easily make your own. If you are buying them, be careful … some contain artificial sweeteners. You can create your own flavored waters at home by adding a few pieces of fruit to a pitcher of ice water. Lemon, lime, watermelon, raspberry, strawberry, kiwi – your seasonal favorites! Allow the pitcher to sit in the fridge for a few hours to let the fruit flavors mix in.
  • Spa water: Take a tip from world-class spas and toss a couple of thin cucumber slices into your glass of water. Add a clay mask facial and some New Age music and relax!
  • Iced tea, the old standby: Boost the health properties of this traditional summertime beverage by trying iced green tea – or, if you prefer a caffeine-free beverage, rooibos (also known as African bush tea or red tea). Raise the “wow” factor of these teas with some intriguing flavor infusions such as jasmine or mint.
  • Stevia – If you absolutely must sweeten your beverage, this plant extract has been used as a sweetener by native people in South America for hundreds of years and is being researched for its possible health benefits including lowering blood pressure and regulating glucose levels. Stevia is sweeter than sugar, so use just a pinch.

Sources:
Columbia University Diet Soda Study
The McDougall Newsletter

 

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