With so many diet variations of popular carbonated drinks available, we look at whether a diet version is in fact a healthier and nutritional alternative.
We all know that popular carbonated drinks when consumed excessively can have extremely harmful effects on our health. In fact added sugar especially in liquid form is highly fattening, yet does not make you feel full at all. One of the reasons behind this is that the sugar found in these popular drinks is fructose, this sugar does not naturally lower the hunger hormone in the same way as glucose would which is the main carbohydrate found in starchy foods (1, 2).
In fact, popular drinks also mean that people end up consuming liquid sugar on top of their total calorie intake, therefore you eat the same amount of food as you usually would but with extra sugar on top (3). One study found that people who regularly drank soda with their meals ended up consuming seventeen percent more calories than they would if they drank just water (3) – this is a massive amount that can easily contribute to the development of obesity within a few years (4).
With such strong information available, it does make sense to switch to diet carbonated drinks instead of regular versions. But how many people do you know who have successfully managed to lose weight by simply switching from regular carbonated drinks to diet carbonated drinks – probably not many, unless other lifestyle changes are made. This is because diet sodas are sweetened with artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, cyclamate, saccharin and sucralose. Currently almost every popular drink has a ‘light’ or ‘diet’ version available in the market which are said to be calorie free and are supposed to promote weight loss and prevent sugar-related health conditions such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome. However so far there is no evidence to support these claims.
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions which can occur together and increase the risk of diseases and conditions such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease. The syndrome can be defined as having at least three of the following conditions (5);
So far we know that drinking diet sodas in place of the original versions, does not appear to make any difference in any of the factors of the metabolic syndrome. One study from 2008 followed 9,514 participants for nine years who would regularly drink diet drinks and found an association of a thirty-four percent greater risk in developing metabolic syndrome (6).
Surprisingly, diet soda consumption has been strongly associated with depression. One study had participants aged between fifty and seventy-one years of age, record their daily intake of sweetened drinks such as soda, coffee and tea for a year. After ten years, participants reported to researchers whether they had since been diagnosed with depression, it was found that participants who drank more than four cans of soda a day were thirty percent more likely to be diagnosed with depression as opposed to those who did not drink soda. This risk was higher for participants who drank diet soda instead of regular soda. (7).
A study from Denmark found that pregnant women who consumed one serving of diet drinks per day had a thirty-eight percent increase in the risk of preterm delivery, increasing consumption up to four servings per day led to an increase in risk up to seventy-eight percent (8).
Many observational and prospective studies suggest a strong link between diet soda artificial sweeteners and weight gain (9, 10). In fact, some short-term trials have even found that artificial sweeteners can increase appetite and intake of food when compared to sugar (11, 12).
Although most of the studies and findings outlined above are epidemiological studies, they cannot prove that diet drinks are the cause of such problems. However, it is clear there are strong negative associations with diet drinks.
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Teff, K.L., Elliott, S.S., Tschöp, M., Kieffer, T.J., Rader, D., Heiman, M., Townsend, R.R., Keim, N.L., D’alessio, D. and Havel, P.J., 2004. Dietary fructose reduces circulating insulin and leptin, attenuates postprandial suppression of ghrelin, and increases triglycerides in women. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 89(6), pp.2963-2972.
Page, K.A., Chan, O., Arora, J., Belfort-DeAguiar, R., Dzuira, J., Roehmholdt, B., Cline, G.W., Naik, S., Sinha, R., Constable, R.T. and Sherwin, R.S., 2013. Effects of fructose vs glucose on regional cerebral blood flow in brain regions involved with appetite and reward pathways. Jama, 309(1), pp.63-70.
Vartanian, L.R., Schwartz, M.B. and Brownell, K.D., 2011. Effects of soft drink consumption on nutrition and health: a systematic review and meta-analysis. American journal of public health.
DiMeglio, D.P. and Mattes, R.D., 2000. Liquid versus solid carbohydrate: effects on food intake and body weight. International journal of obesity, 24(6), p.794.
Huang, P.L., 2009. A comprehensive definition for metabolic syndrome. Disease models & mechanisms, 2(5-6), pp.231-237.
Lutsey, P.L., Steffen, L.M. and Stevens, J., 2008. Dietary intake and the development of the metabolic syndrome. Circulation, 117(6), pp.754-761.
Guo, X., Park, Y., Freedman, N.D., Sinha, R., Hollenbeck, A.R., Blair, A. and Chen, H., 2014. Sweetened beverages, coffee, and tea and depression risk among older US adults. PloS one, 9(4), p.e94715.
Halldorsson, T.I., Strøm, M., Petersen, S.B. and Olsen, S.F., 2010. Intake of artificially sweetened soft drinks and risk of preterm delivery: a prospective cohort study of 59,334 Danish pregnant women. The American journal of clinical nutrition, pp.ajcn-28968.
Stellman, S.D. and Garfinkel, L., 1986. Artificial sweetener use and one-year weight change among women. Preventive medicine, 15(2), pp.195-202.
Colditz, G.A., Willett, W.C., Stampfer, M.J., London, S.J., Segal, M.R. and Speizer, F.E., 1990. Patterns of weight change and their relation to diet in a cohort of healthy women. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 51(6), pp.1100-1105.
Lavin, J.H., French, S.J. and Read, N.W., 1997. The effect of sucrose-and aspartame-sweetened drinks on energy intake, hunger and food choice of female, moderately restrained eaters. International journal of obesity, 21(1), pp.37-42.
Tordoff, M.G. and Alleva, A.M., 1990. Oral stimulation with aspartame increases hunger. Physiology & behavior, 47(3), pp.555-559.