Diet Soda Woes... Is Diet Soda Really That Bad For You?

I have been drinking diet soda fairly regularly for several years, and people are always telling me....


Its soooooooo horrible for you!!! It's made from rat poison ya know!!! It Causes cancer!!! The artificial sweetener stuff just turns to sugar in your body and makes you fatter!!! It causes you to go mentally handicapped!!! Its worse for you than regular!!! That stuff will kill you!!!


At one time or another I have literally been told each of these things by self claimed experts with little credibility, yet lots to say. OK that may have been a little harsh. I really have been told all of these things, and usually by concerned friends or family members that heard or read it somewhere. I always kind of figured if it was that bad for you, then it would probably come with a warning label. So while I doubt most of these claims, I honestly don't really know. I decided it was finally time to do some research myself, and if you are reading this now... Then you are taking this educational journey with me. (An after thought... After having written this first part, I definitely wasn't expecting this journey to be as humorous as it was for me.)

First Thing First The one with the worst reputation... Aspartame and Phenylalanine


Much of the woe surrounding diet soda is based on the artificial sweetener aspartame. Aspartame is also often referred to by the company name Nutrasweet. At least until the newer artificial sweetener Splenda came around, aspartame was the most popular artificial sweetener in use in the United States. Aspartame was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1974, but has been under scrutiny in the public eye ever since. There have been numerous claims that aspartame consumption can cause or lead to cancer, Mental disabilities, Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, blindness, memory loss, depression, migraines, birth defects, and even death. The list goes on and on. There have been many activists who stood by these claims about aspartame.

Why would the FDA allow a substance with these kinds of claims against it to remain on the market? Especially without so much as a warning label? Because there is no evidence that any of it is true. Because of the scrutiny and claims against aspartame, the FDA has performed numerous studies on aspartame, and have yet to find any evidence to support negative health effects.

Some critics believed that the FDA had a conflict of interest in approving aspartame for safe use back in 1974. However, The U.S. Government Accountability Office investigated this claim, and determined that the FDA had taken all of the appropriate measures and followed protocol in the approval process.

In 1996, it is believed that a well known aspartame activists circulated an article on the Internet claiming that aspartame was unsafe and questioned the FDA's decision, along with several statements that had no credibility whatsoever. However, this article circulated through a great many people, and did nothing but to fuel the fire that created the general public's fearful view of the sweetener.

As to date, aspartame has been tested and proven safe by over ninety countries, and the FDA officials stand by their decision that aspartame has been thoroughly tested and has been proven safe. If you look up aspartame on the FDA website you will still see countless documents of people making claims against the sweetener, but not providing any evidence of its supposed harmful effects. There is at this time still no evidence that aspartame can cause any of the ailments that have been claimed.


Aspartame breaks down to Phenylalanine


Another reason that diet soda seems to get a lot of negative hype is over a little script on the label that reads, “Phenylketonurics: Contains Phenylalanine”. There has been some negative press, and some people have the idea that Phenylalanine can cause mental disabilities and/or other negative health effects.

When consumed, aspartame will break down to a few different natural amino acids. One of these amino acids is phenylalanine. Phenylalanine isn't harmful to most people as it is a naturally occurring amino acid. However people with a genetic disorder called Phenylketonuria have to carefully monitor the amount of Phenylalanine they take in, as there body is unable to metabolize it appropriately. If a person with this genetic disorder does not treat and monitor the amount of phenylalanine they consume it can lead to severe brain issues.

Even though in the United States non food products that contain phenylalanine, such as aspartame must be labeled as such, there is actually less phenylalanine in aspartame than there is in other foods. Phenylalanine is actually sold in nutritional drinks as a pain reliever and antidepressant.


Diet Soda is Sweetened with Saccharin! That's Rat Poison!


The first thing I noticed when I started writing this was that I didn't see saccharin listed in the ingredients of any of the popular diet sodas I drink. After researching beyond the plastic bottles in my hand, I came to discover that Saccharin isn't used in most of the more popular sodas. I am making an educated guess that this is because they were removed or never added to the recipes during the time when Saccharin was under scrutiny. Afterward, I doubt the major soda companies bothered to try adding it back in because they were already using aspartame.

I also haven't found any indication that Saccharin was ever manufactured and produced as a rat poison. That doesn't mean it hasn't, but I don't find any evidence. Judging from the further information I found which is compiled below, I doubt it ever was.

All that said if Saccharin was in the diet pops I drink, I would still drink them.

Saccharin has been around for a very long time as a sweetener, but did not become very popular until sugar shortages during the first World War. It remained a common sweetener until the 1970s when research showed that saccharin could cause cancer in rats. This led to a bit of a panic and products containing saccharin were required to have a warning label. This gave saccharin the reputation for being dangerous that is still around today.

In 2000, scientists did further studies and realized that the reason the rats got cancer was because they contained a high amount of a certain protein in their urine, a protein that humans don't have. The protein along with calcium phosphate mixed with the saccharin to cause little crystals that tore the bladder wall. This is in turn caused the cells to over produce and form the tumors.

This was of course studied thoroughly, and in 2010, The Environmental Protection Agency confirmed that saccharin was no threat to humans.

As for a rat poison, if you want the rats you are after to slowly die of caner, then I supposed saccharin would work as rat poison. For humans however... harmless.

Dangers of all soda


There are some health effects that are related to soda in general rather it be diet or regular.

Benzene


Most sodas have a benzoic acid preservative in them in the form of sodium benzoate, potassium benzoate, and/or calcium benzoate. When one of these benzoic acids gets mixed with ascorbic acid, it can cause a carcinogen called benzene. A carcinogen is a substance that can cause cancer. Don't panic yet. Soda companies don't add ascorbic acid to sodas. They do add citric acid, but it isn't believed to cause the same effect. Ascorbic acid is used in many foods and other drinks as an antioxidant, and alone its safe. Its just when when the two, ascorbic acid and a benzoic acid are put together that they can form this carcinogen.

In recent years the FDA checked all of the sodas for there possible benzene levels. Over 100 contained benzene, but in a level lower than was is allowed for drinking water. Four sodas were above the allowed limit, and the FDA said they were working alongside the companies to have benzene levels lowered.

So basically what I'm gathering from that is that there could potentially be a minor risk of cancer causing stuff in sodas, but that a person would have to consume a vast amount of soda to really put them self at risk. That's what I gathered from that anyway.


The phosphoric acid is believed to possibly lower bone density which would increase the risk of bone fractures. Phosphoric acid is in both diet and regular sodas.


Will Diet Soda Make You Gain Weight?


There has been some various studies done on this very question. The general consensus seems to be that a large percentage of people that drank diet sodas did in fact gain weight, but didn't seem to think it was anything in the soda itself but rather a mental thing from person to person. Some scientists say that even though diet sodas remain calorie free, the taste sensation of sweetness could increase a person's overall desire for sweetness. Also, some scientists feel that people make the mistake of thinking that because they are drinking diet soda, they can allow themselves take in more calories, therefore gaining more weight.


Diet Soda and Heart Ailments


In recent months, the results of a study connected diet soda consumption to increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. The study said that people who consumed diet soda regularly were 61% more like to have a heart attack or stroke. This report received a lot of news media attention, and started up new talks about the dangers of diet soda.

Many doctors and scientists however, don't agree with the results of the study. This study involved tracking 2,500 peoples drinking habits for 10 years. Of those 2,500, 8% were diet soda drinkers. Of that 8%, 61% showed an increased risk of heart failure and stroke risks. The study did not take in to account all of the other known ways to raise heart attack and stroke risk. Scientists say that this doesn't necessarily say anything about diet soda, because as previously mentioned scientists tend to believe that diet soda drinkers have weight gains based off of a mentality rather than anything the soda does to them.

I tend to lean toward this answer. With such a small group I personally find it more likely that some people who have weight problems turn to diet soda as a potential way to cut back calories, but yet they will still struggle with their weight problems. These weight problems are the cause of increased risk to heart attack and stroke.


Diet Soda and Kidneys


In 2009 a study was released that indicated there could be a link between diet soda and kidney function declining. This study was done with all women and the average age was 67. They measured these women's kidneys in 1989, and then again in 2000. The results showed that the women who had drank more than two diet sodas a day throughout that long time frame showed a 30% higher kidney decline.

This article, like the article above still remains somewhat inconclusive. It didn't take in to account the women's eating habits so its unknown if diet soda can be directly linked to the kidney decline.

My Conclusion


I am not a doctor or scientist so I can speak only for myself, and wouldn't begin to advise you on whether or not you should drink diet soda. That said, personally, I will rest easy as I continue drinking diet soda, for knowing that it most likely won't make me fatter, cause me to have a heart attack, develop a mental illness, or many of the other blown out of proportion claims that have been made. At this time, I don't feel there is any real evidence that it will cause me harm. I could probably cut back a bit, and my thought is that diet soda fits right in with that old saying, 'Too much of anything isn't good fer ya!!!' I feel that based off the evidence and research I've now spent hours reading and laughing through that the amount of harm it may cause me is insubstantial to the many worse habits I have.

Also, now when people scold me about how evil it is, I can laugh and tell them they're wrong.

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Comments 9 comments

Radioguy profile image

Radioguy 5 years ago from Maine

Great job! Useful info here and well written!


Phillbert profile image

Phillbert 5 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thank you Radioguy


brblog profile image

brblog 5 years ago from Chicago, Illinois

Not scientific but well thought-out. This diet soda thing just keeps circulation around the web.


rorshak sobchak 5 years ago

You know what is hilarious is how soda can keep staying on the market when it is so bad for everyone. It is also funny that at every fast food restaurant the main choices for drinks are sodas. I am trying myself to switch to non carbonated beverages because soda is hurting my stomach. Nice write up Phillbert.

rorshak sobchak


Phillbert profile image

Phillbert 5 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks for the comments Brblog and Rorshak. That is funny rorshak. Good luck on the switch!


Beth100 profile image

Beth100 5 years ago from Canada

Interesting take on the diet soda war. I refuse to ingest it because of experiments that were conducted on aspartame when it first was introduced to the public. The experiment was conducted properly (with controlled groups) and the results proved that aspartame had a direct impact on the subjects (though they were rats).

I understand that there is a belief that if the FDA approves it, then it must be safe. I beg to differ that just because it is approved, does not mean that it is perfectly safe. Take the example of bisphenol A -- approved for use by FDA and other government bodies in other countries yet was not safe, especially for baby bottles. It is only in recent years that it has been acknowledged that bisphenol A is dangerous and only now, that bottles are being made without it. Another is microwave ovens. The belief -- it is safe for food. The truth -- the waves shake the atoms of the food so quickly that they reform into another configuration. Food resembles itself at a macro scale, but on a micro scale, it is not the same food. The food has been altered, and our bodies do not digest the food the same. There are some studies that prove that the by products from digesting microwaved foods is carcinogenic.

I say that the consumer has to be aware and conduct his/her own research carefully. There are many examples of a product being given the stamp of approval with the knowledge that there is a negative impact, even if the negative impact is deemed "minor".

You've written your beliefs in a well thought out manner. Kudos for your standing your ground and for taking this debate head on!


Phillbert profile image

Phillbert 5 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thank you for the comment Beth! Very interesting thoughts that deserve being looked in to!


chloelozano 4 years ago

Thanks for dispelling some of the myths about diet soda. While I am still a little worried about the chemicals I am introducing into my body when I drink my beloved diet Pepsi, I also know that some of the wild claims about the evils of artificial sweeteners are false.


Phillbert profile image

Phillbert 4 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks chloelozano! I just got tired of everyone telling me how evil my drinks were so I decided to look in to it for myself.

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