Not So Definitive Guide to Diet Soda
Mark’s Daily Apple
by Mark Sisson: How
to Make Red Wine Vinegar
Before I begin,
I want to make something clear: this is not your standard definitive
guide to whatever. I'd like to be able to issue a proclamation
regarding diet soda that stands the test of time immemorial, but
I cannot. Research is still in its infancy, and exactly what diet
soda does to those who drink it – if anything – is incredibly confusing.
The one thing I can say with any certainty is that, while it's unfair
to say it will kill you or give your unborn child prenatal tumors
or make you impossibly obese, you're probably better off without
diet soda. It tastes weird, the list of unpronounceable ingredients
is too long for my comfort level, and I've seen one too many unsuccessful
dieters that seem to live on the stuff.
There are two
things to consider when making any conclusions about diet soda's
place in a healthy
diet. Do the ingredients used in diet soda pose a threat to
your short-term or long-term (or that of your offspring's) health?
Is it a kind of sugary methadone, impeding healthy eating by making
it harder to kick the desire for sweet things in your mouth because,
well, you're constantly putting things in your mouth that mimic
sugar? Let's dig in.
ingredients. What goes into a can of your average diet soda?
water, some sort of food coloring, and preservatives like potassium
benzoate are all innocuous enough. Nothing to worry about there.
You won't see Mercola
issuing dire warnings about Caramel Color No. 76 anytime soon. It's
the other stuff that interests (or worries) us: artificial sweeteners
and (to a lesser extent) phosphoric acid. Let's take a
look at the two major sweeteners
in popular use, aspartame and sucralose. Are they dangerous?
a bad rap. High dose rat studies implicate it as a carcinogen, but
in exceedingly large amounts. A can of diet soda a day probably
won't give you cancer. Would I avoid it as a pregnant
mother? Yes. Would I be wary of drinking several cans a day?
Yes. The basic takeaway is that while the clinical evidence of immediate
danger upon normal ingestion of aspartame is lacking, inconclusive,
or unclear, the vast amount of anecdotal
evidence from people linking aspartame to headaches,
panic attacks, and other maladies gives me great pause. I
mean, the stuff tastes horrible, and that's enough for me, but some
people appear to have real health issues with aspartame.
Not everyone, obviously, but some do. If aspartame appears to give
you trouble, don't let PubMed
convince you that it's harmless. It may very well be safe in the
amounts we typically consume in the majority of people, but you
can't ignore your own experiences.
as Splenda, sucralose is a popular sweetener that's often called
"natural" because it's the product of selective sucrose chlorination.
It's 3.3 times sweeter than aspartame and 600 times sweeter than
It seems to have less of a disgusting aftertaste than aspartame
(it's all foul to me, though). Like aspartame, most of the studies
reporting negative effects used insanely high doses of sucralose.
I'm talking doses in the area of thousands of Splenda
packets a day for months on end. I'm no fan, but I don't think normal
consumption of the stuff will kill you. There was a study
that found normal doses (between 1.1 and 11.1 mg/kg per day; recommended
maximum daily dosage is 5 mg/kg) of sucralose negatively impacted
flora in rats and lead to weight gain, although a later
review called the study's results into question. I'll pass,
but thanks, expert panel. There's also the fact that sucralose is
usually combined with something called acesulfame-K (potassium),
another sweetener that many researchers think needs more toxicity
tests. My take? Studies showing negative effects may be overstated
or misguided, but why take the risk for that weird chemical aftertaste?
Just avoid the stuff to be on the safe side.
And then there's
phosphoric acid. Here's how the story supposedly goes: phosphoric
acid, which soda makers use in place of pricier citric acid, leaches
from your bones and reduces bone
mineral density. Is it true? Well, it's become pretty clear
that foods containing dietary phosphorus – like meat,
and other "evil" foods – strengthen
bones, rather than leach from them. But phosphorus isn't exactly
the same as phosphoric acid, which epidemiological studies
have connected with loss of bone mineral density and osteoporosis.
One in particular found
that only colas (both diet and regular) were strongly associated
with loss of bone mineral density. What do colas have that other
diet sodas largely do not? Caffeine plus phosphoric acid. A more
recent controlled trial found that only fizzy drinks containing
caffeine resulted in increased calcium excretion; phosphoric acid
content exerted no effect, either alone or in concert with caffeine.
I don't think we can implicate phosphoric acid just yet.
Okay, but remember:
we've got to be careful when analyzing a food's worth by singling
out one of its constituent parts for good or for bad (although diet
soda is by all definitions not food, it is a consumable whose stated
purpose is to help dieters lose weight by avoiding sugar). Let's
judge diet soda on that. It may be technically safe to consume,
but does it do its "job"? Does it help us lose weight
by replacing our sugar intake with non-caloric sweetener intake
the rest of the article
January 28, 2011
© 2011 Mark's Daily Apple
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