There are plenty of myths and rumors surrounding diet soda. It seems like the perfect solution: Get the sugary taste of soda without the unwanted liquid calories. However, as food scientists begin to examine how the artificial sweeteners affect our bodies, they are finding some interesting, and not completely positive results.
But unlike its sugary counterparts, including Coke, Pepsi and plenty of others, the research done on artificially sweetened drinks is new and far from conclusive. Whereas the American Heart Association linked more than 180,000 deaths around the world to sugary drinks [American Heart Association], experts are often hesitant to condemn diet drinks with the current body of research.
So what do we know about diet soda? Enough to make us skeptical. Though many of the studies conducted have been based on survey and self-reported information, and often find associations as opposed to cause-and-effect results, there is little stating any real benefit to drinking soda – no matter if it contains sugar or artificial sweeteners. And some of the studies show associations that make it obvious that these calorie-saving drinks may not be doing our waistlines or well-being any favors. Read on to see five health risks that have been linked to artificially sweetened drinks.
They May Trick Your Brain
Artificial sweeteners (like Equal, Splenda, etc.) trick your brain into thinking it is consuming real food. But when your body realizes that it's not getting the usual nutrients found in snacks and meals, it tends to become confused. So when you consume real sugar, your body may not respond properly and release blood sugar-regulating hormones. This may have a greater effect on your metabolism, as well. A 2008 study found that drinking just one diet cola a day was associated with 36% greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a grouping of conditions including high blood sugar, a fatter midsection and unhealthy cholesterol levels that can increase the possibility of developing heart disease, stroke and diabetes. [Diabetes Care]
They May Make You Crave More Dessert
Artificial sweeteners taste sweeter than sugar (Splenda, or sucralose, is 600 times sweeter than regular sugar), and some argue they may also increase appetite and may make you crave other sweet products. Some food scientists speculate that's because consuming artificial sweeteners may overstimulate the sugar receptors, making less-sweet foods like fruits and vegetables far less appetizing and leading you to consume sweet, more calorie-dense food.
Though the research is limited, small initial studies show that the more diet sodas an individual drinks, the less activity scientists saw in the region of the brain that regulate the brain's reward system.