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  • Writer's pictureLindsay Nelson, RD, LD

Are diet sodas safe?

Photo by Blake Wisz on Unsplash

You think you’re making a better decision when you order the diet soda versus the real thing. It seems like it’s an okay choice; no sugar, no calories. But have you ever looked at the ingredients on a can of diet soda? How is it possible for a soda to have no calories or sugar but still have so much flavor? Here are the ingredients in one popular soda brand: carbonated water, caramel color, aspartame, phosphoric acid, potassium benzoate, caffeine, citric acid, natural flavor. The ingredients that have some potential adverse effects are as follows, according to the environmental working group:

-Caramel color: contain carcinogenic impurities at unsafe levels.

-Aspartame (artificial sweetener): many studies show it causes cancer in lab animals. May destroy good bacteria in the gut. Can still raise blood sugar in some people.

-Phosphoric acid: associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease and kidney disease. Also pulls calcium from the bones.

-Potassium benzoate: European Union Scientific Committee on Food reports this substance causes developmental toxicity in animals at high doses.

While these ingredients are concerning, it is also dose-dependent. The harm of someone drinking a diet soda once a week compared to someone who drinks 3 cans a day can make a big difference.

One new study just released found that drinking 2 or more diet beverages a day is linked to a high risk of stroke, heart attack and early death in women over age 50. This is just another study that adds to the evidence that artificially sweetened beverages are linked to stroke, dementia, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. Although, none of the studies show cause and effect, just association.

So what’s the better choice – regular soda or diet soda? Neither. To play it safe drink something that we KNOW is good for you: water, naturally flavored carbonated waters, unsweetened teas, low sodium V8 and kombucha (fermented tea). Trying to cut out soda cold turkey can be tough – especially if you’ve been drinking it daily for years. Try slowly tapering down the amount of soda you drink every day and replace it with water or one of the other beverage choices listed above. My personal favorite is watermelon sparkling water (without artificial sweetener) or gingerade kombucha. It does take time for your palate to get used to these lower sugar options, but after a few weeks of “detoxing” from sugar and artificial sugar, you should start to enjoy the natural flavors of these beverages and even plain water. It normally takes at least 2 weeks for sugar cravings to decrease. Just make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep, eating fresh produce at every meal and moving your body and you’ll be feeling better and getting rid of your soda addictions in no time.

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