Diet (alternatively marketed as sugar-free, zero-calorie or low-calorie) drinks are sugar-free, artificially sweetened versions of fizzy beverages with virtually no calories. They are generally marketed toward health-conscious people, diabetics, athletes, and other people who want to lose weight, improve physical fitness, or reduce their sugar intake.
These claims are simply untrue!
Many soda manufacturers use aspartame, an artificial sweetener, to replace sugar. Aspartame is an artificial, non-saccharide sweetener used as a sugar substitute in some foods and beverages. In the European Union, it is codified as E951. Aspartame is a methyl ester of the aspartic acid/phenylalanine dipeptide.
The Dangers of Going ‘Diet’
While the sweetener remains popular, it has also faced controversy in recent years. Many opponents have claimed that aspartame is actually bad for your health. There are also claims about long-term repercussions. Unfortunately, while extensive tests have been conducted on aspartame, there is no consensus as to whether or not aspartame is “bad” for you.
Aspartame is a minor source of phenylalanine compared to the amounts you get from other foods, so this is not a cause for concern.
However, phenylalanine can reach toxic levels in people with a genetic disorder called phenylketonuria (PKU). Those who have PKU need to avoid foods high in phenylalanine, especially during childhood and adolescence.
The results could prove to be significant to overall public health given the scale of the study and the fact that approximately one in five people in the United States consume diet drinks on a daily basis.
The 59,614 participants of the study were split into four groups by the researchers:
- two or more diet drinks a day
- five to seven diet drinks per week
- one to four diet drinks per week
- zero to three diet drinks per month
Compared to normal consumption of natural foods, aspartame consumption is only a minor source of aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol. Furthermore, aspartame intakes in adults, children and diabetics of all ages are unlikely to exceed the current Acceptable Daily Intake.
Further, studies have shown that foods and beverages sweetened with aspartame can be an effective “tool” as part of a weight management program. Aspartame, however, is not a drug and does not stimulate weight loss. It does help make possible good tasting low- or reduced-calorie foods and beverages for those who wish to control or decrease their caloric intake. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have concluded that aspartame “is a valuable adjunct to a comprehensive program of balanced diet, exercise and behavior modifications for losing weight.”
Although the study was conducted on such a large scale, no official conclusion has been drawn but the initial signs are very worrying.
One of the most serious health concerns regarding aspartame consumption is the proposed threat of cancer. To investigate, researchers have performed two types of testing: one that exposes animals to the substance, often in extreme doses, and another that monitors instances of cancer among various subsets of people. Although not always easy to interpret, neither form of testing suggests a link between cancer development and aspartame ingestion that chance does not otherwise explain.
Many large companies pump vast sums of money into marketing ‘diet’ soda as a healthy drink – showing how much more concerned they are with lining their pockets than benefiting their consumers.
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