I hope you realize that sugar over-consumption is a primary reason of the obesity epidemic in the Western civilization. Just in case you do not, check something like this article in The Guardian or watch video below this post. Since this is a well-established fact, I am not going to talk about it in this blog.
One of the major supplier of sugar for modern Western people are soft drinks. One 20-oz bottle of Coca Cola in the US contains 2.3 oz (65 grams) of sugar. In order to keep soda in our life without gaining fat, we switch to diet soda that contains neither sugar nor calories. Is this a solution?
Back in 1980s and 1990s there was a big buzz about aspartame, the most widespread artificial sweetener in the world and, apparently, the only product of this kind used in diet soft drinks produced by Coca Cola, PepsiCo and Dr. Pepper. Some freethinkers accused big greedy corporations in inventing pure poison, bribing all governments and research institutions worldwide, and making money hiding aspartame’s lethal qualities from public. The great example of this is a web site AspartameKills.com comparing aspartame producers with Adolf Hitler.
I believe conspiracy theories of such level are ridiculous, but I admit that corporate funding may incentivize some researchers to avoid conclusions their sponsors may not like. Therefore, I have gone through dozens of studies from different respectable intuitions in different countries to make sure I am not missing any important information. Here is what I found.
The labeling of aspartame as a carcinogenic substance has been disproved by a vast amount of research. Notorious 2005 Ramazzini studies, that claimed to have found a link between aspartame and cancer in rats, turned out to be of very poor quality and are unable to be used to come to any conclusion.
Multiple human studies found no correlation between aspartame consumption and cancer. So, if your only concern is cancer, feel free to drink unlimited amount of diet soda. However, I would not do this.
Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes
Ironically, AspartamKills.com mentions neither of these diseases. Nevertheless, a longitudinal study tracking health, lifestyle and diet of more than 6.8 thousand American found that diet soda consumption significantly increases risks of developing both. The risk of metabolic syndrome goes up with drinking diet soda by 36%. The risk of type 2 diabetes grows by 67%. Unfortunately, unlike in cases of coffee and alcohol, the study did not find a safe level of regular consumption: risks go up to about those levels even for those drinking less than seven cans per week.
If metabolic syndrome does not sound scary enough for you, keep reading. Technically speaking, metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors that raises your risk for coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and some other illnesses. Those factors are:
– a large waistline (“an apple shape”),
– a high triglyceride (fat ) level in the blood,
– a low HDL (“good”) cholesterol level in the blood,
– high blood pressure,
– high fasting blood sugar (may be an early sign of diabetes).
Having at least three of these factors means you have a metabolic syndrome and your risks of heart disease and type 2 diabetes are really high. And do not think that those diseases are rare: even in 1990s when the obesity epidemic only started, every fourth adult in the USA was eligible to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. Heart disease is a reason number one of death in the US. Strokes and diabetes take the fourth and seventh places respectively. If you are obsessed with losing weight, keep in mind that it is metabolic syndrome that often makes this task incredibly difficult. You do not want to take it easy.
Interestingly, the study did not find the same link for ordinary sugary drinks, which by no means can mean that it is safe and healthy to drink them regularly. All negative consequences of sugar abuse will show up through different mechanisms. The point here is that diet soda is not a good replacement of sugary drinks.