Are you tempted to reach for a can of diet soda every time you crave a regular, sugar-sweetened soda, believing it’s safe (or healthier) to consume because it’s sugar-free?
Sugar-free sodas typically contain artificial sweeteners that have few or no calories and a higher intensity of sweetness per gram than sugar.
You will certainly save on calories with a diet soda, many of which (e.g. Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Diet Pepsi) contain the artificial sweetener aspartame (which is 200 times sweeter than sugar), provided you don’t increase your calorie intake from other sources. But whether the sweetener in the diet soda is better for your health than the sugar in the regular soda, is debatable.
Some research studies have found an association between artificial sweeteners and weight gain, as well as health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke, but others have had inconclusive results.
Experts point out that artificial sweeteners may be harmful for your health for the following reasons:
They cause the body to assume it has taken in more energy than it really has which may lead to increased hunger and calorie intake in the long term
They stimulate the area of the brain associated with the desire to consume foods high in fat and sugar
What do Singapore researchers say about artificial sweeteners?
Researchers from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore and Ben Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel looked at the effects of six artificial sweeteners – aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, advantame, neotame and acesulfame potassium-k – and found that artificial sweeteners could be toxic to human gut bacteria.
Another study in the journal ‘Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology’ discovered that drinking diet soda may raise your risk for a severe type of diabetic eye disease, called proliferative diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to blindness. Study author Eva Fenwick, a clinical research fellow at the Singapore Eye Research Institute and an assistant professor at the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, revealed that individuals with diabetes who consumed more than four cans, or 1.5 litres of diet soft drinks per week, were associated with a twofold increased risk of proliferative diabetic retinopathy.
Experts suggest that if you are trying to wean yourself off sugar-sweetened sodas, diet sodas can be a short-term substitute, ideally consumed in small amounts over a short period of time.
There are healthier sugar-free alternatives to diet sodas:
Ice cold water flavoured with crushed fresh mint/citrus fruit zest/sliced ginger/sliced cucumber
Fresh fruit mixed with soda water
Freshly squeezed lime with soda water