Artificial Sweeteners, Diet Soda & You: Yes or No?
Is diet soda really bad for me? … Do artificial sweeteners cause cancer? … Which is healthier: to put sugar or Sweet ‘n Low in my iced tea?
Many athletes ask me many questions about diet soda and artificial sweeteners. They feel guilty about eating sugar, but they love sweet foods. If that sounds familiar, you can stop the guilt! We are born with an innate preference for sweet foods (including all-natural breast milk). All living species —apart from cats— are attracted to sweets. (Yes, my dog loves blueberries!) Hungry athletes, in particular, tend to enjoy sweet stuff a lot! While little is wrong with 100 to 200 calories of sugar a day, some athletes enjoy way too many sugar-laden foods, including soda.
If you are a lover of soft drinks, sweet tea and other sugary beverages, you might be left wondering if you should quit drinking the stuff and opt for diet beverages instead? According to Dr. Jim Hill, of the University of Colorado and a principal researcher for the National Weight Control Registry (a study of more than 10,000 people who have lost more than 30 pounds and have kept it off for more than a year), the dieters who drank sugar-free soda reported it helped them manage their weight. It was a helpful tool in their weight-loss toolbox.
Speaking at the Annual Food and Nutrition Conference of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (Nashville, October 2015), Dr. Hill pointed out that a review of all the research on diet soda and weight concludes:
1) Diet soda does not lead to weight gain in humans. Rather, the studies indicate diet soda is associated with either weight loss or weight maintenance (i.e., lack of weight gain).
2) Diet soda does not contribute to adverse health effects or inflammation. Even the American Cancer Society places no limitation on sugar substitutes. (Rather, they suggest a high sugar intake can promote obesity and the obesity places people at a higher risk for cancer.)
3) To date, no scientific findings recommend against artificial sweeteners. (Science changes, as we know.) Hence, to date, if you desire, you can healthfully include diet soda (in moderation, as with all foods) as a part of your overall balanced eating plan.
My biggest concern regarding diet soda is with people who drink liters of the stuff instead of eating a balanced diet. Many have disordered eating patterns or outright eating disorders. Diet soda is the symptom of a much bigger need for food-help. If that is your case, please seek food-help from a local registered sports dietitian!