For years, people who love soda but want to watch their caloric intake have opted for low- or no-calorie sodas that have been marketed as a healthier alternative simply because they have fewer calories.
While it is true that calories do “count”, the quality of your calories matters more. It is no secret that soda, no matter what kind, is detrimental to one’s health, but diet sodas may actually be causing even more harm than you might think or want to believe.
Diet Soda Ingredients
Based on multiple epidemiologic studies, diet sodas have been linked to obesity, weight gain, heart disease, metabolic disease and neurological issues. They have even been shown to alter the way the brain processes the “sweet” taste.
Most diet sodas have many similar ingredients in their products including carbonated water, caramel color, non-nutritive or artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucrose, etc.), natural flavors, potassium benzoate, potassium citrate, phosphoric acid, citric acid and caffeine.
There are many other ingredients that may be used depending on the brand and specific product, but let’s take a look at some of these common ingredients and their impact on the body.
Here is a comparison of how one of the most popular soda companies describes each of these ingredients with the actual health damaging effects these ingredients have been known to have:
1. Carbonated water
“Carbonated water, also known as soda water, sparkling water, or seltzer, is water with carbon dioxide bubbles added to provide fizz and refreshment.”
Carbonated water, the base of almost all sodas, has not been shown in studies to be detrimental to health by itself. There is not enough research that has been done on the carbonation alone to determine any significant negative health effects, but it has been shown that the combination of carbonation and sugar can have serious impacts on your dental health.
As the base of diet sodas, this does not seem to be the ingredient that poses the greatest health risk, but read on, and you will see that this is the only ingredient that has any positive merits.
2. Caramel Color
“Caramel color is made by a process involving the heating of corn or cane sugar and other carbohydrates to achieve the desired color.
Caramel coloring in beverages has been evaluated for safety by agencies like the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives of the World Health Organization and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.”
This coloring, in varying amounts, accounts for over 80% of all colorants added to our foods and drinks.
Caramel color is an ingredient that is not listed as an “artificial color” according to the FDA, but it has been shown to cause health problems.
During the manufacturing process of caramel color, a potential carcinogen known as 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI) is formed.
Every time caramel coloring is consumed, this carcinogen can enter the body, and because it is not considered artificial, it can still be in food and drinks that are labeled with “no artificial colors”, thereby increasing the possibility of consumption.
One study published in Toxicology Letters in 2016 found that caramel color cannot be considered as a safe additive when considering certain ways that it impacts the body.
With this additive being found in so many foods and drinks simply for the purpose of obtaining a desired color, it is important to pay attention to how much is being consumed in your daily diet. One way to eliminate this potentially harmful additive is to eliminate sodas from the diet.
3. Non-nutritive sweeteners
Non-nutritive sweeteners are any sweeteners used in place of sugar or honey to create a sweet taste in a food or drink yet provide no nutritional value. In diet sodas, these include aspartame, sucralose, cyclamates, saccharin and acesulfame potassium.
Some of these have been studied extensively and found to have legitimate health impacts while others have been touted as a “healthy” alternative to sugar without any real evidence to support those claims.
In general, non-nutritive sweeteners have been shown in several large-scale epidemiologic studies to have similar effects as sugar—weight gain, metabolic syndrome, central adiposity and cardiovascular disease.
Aspartame is made of aspartic acid and phenylalanine. For those with phenylketonuria, phenylalanine cannot be digested properly so there is a clear warning for those with this condition to avoid aspartame.
Consuming large amounts of phenylalanine can also cause phenylketonuria because of the way it is able to cross the blood-brain barrier. Aspartic acid is an excitotoxin that can lead to free radical damage in the brain.
Studies have been performed that have called for a re-examination of this artificial sweetener as “safe” based on proven carcinogenicity in animal studies.
Pregnant women and children are especially encouraged to avoid aspartame as they may be more vulnerable to its effects.
One study revealed that those who consumed a high-aspartame diet showed increased irritability, depression and performed more poorly on spatial orientation tests. This shows the impact aspartame may have on the neurological system.
Sucralose, commonly known as Splenda, has been promoted as a better alternative to aspartame as a non-nutritive sweetener since it is derived from sugar.
According to scientific studies, this does not actually seem to be the case. The danger with the mentality that sucralose is safer is that, when it is promoted as a weight-loss agent, many people still believe they can consume both sucralose and a sweet treat because they are consuming “less sugar”.
There is a seeming justification for eating both a sugar-sweetened treat and a sugar-free drink, usually together.
One study found that this combination is actually harmful to the body because sucralose can actually affect the glycemic response by affecting the body’s ability to absorb and/or dispose of glucose.
Saccharin is an artificial sweetener that has also been claimed to be safe for consumption, but looking at research studies will reveal a different story.
One animal study found that all non-nutritive sweeteners that were studied (aspartame, saccharin and sucralose) resulted in glucose intolerance after only 11 weeks of consumption with saccharin having the most significant impact. Glucose intolerance resulted from a direct alteration to the body’s gut microbiota.
4. Natural Flavors
According to the same popular soda brand’s website mentioned earlier, “natural flavors may come from the essential oils or extracts of spices, fruits, vegetables, herbs, roots and barks”.
Basically, you don’t know what these ingredients are.
Even though natural flavors are derived from a natural product, the actual product being consumed has been chemically altered far beyond its natural state.
By the time the natural flavor grouping is consumed, it will likely have been altered to actually contain artificial and synthetic ingredients.
Depending on what the specific combination of ingredients is, there could be a variety of health issues that result.
5. Phosphoric Acid
Phosphoric acid is described as an acid used to add tartness to a beverage. Interestingly, the justification on the popular soda brand’s website is that “phosphoric acid contains phosphorus, one of the basic elements of nature and an essential nutrient.
Phosphorus is a major component of bones.”
They make it sound like you are actually benefiting from drinking phosphoric acid because phosphorus is natural. Don’t be fooled!
Phosphorus and phosphoric acid are two entirely different compounds!
Phosphoric acid has been shown to reduce bone mineral density as well as wither both skin and muscles and cause kidney and heart damage.
It has also been shown to affect the urinary tract and lead to kidney stones and disease.
What happens to your body in one hour after drinking diet soda?
It does not take repeatedly drinking diet soda for a long period of time to begin to experience detrimental health effects. Here is what happens within one hour of drinking a diet soda:
- 10 minutes: phosphoric acid attacks and erodes the enamel in your teeth; gut microbiota begins to be affected by artificial sweeteners
- 20 minutes: your body is sent into fat-storing mode by triggering the release of insulin after tricking your body into tasting a “sweet” taste
- 40 minutes: a short, addictive high (similar to the way cocaine works) occurs from the combination of caffeine and aspartame; the brain’s neuroreceptors are overstimulated and excitotoxins are released
- 60 minutes: the body begins to crave more diet coke
Diet drinks, specifically artificial sweeteners, reduce the body’s ability to produce leptin. Leptin is a hormone that makes one feel full, so when this hormone is not released like it would be after the consumption of other foods or drinks, the body believes it is still hungry and causes the desire for more food or drink.
This is one reason many people who drink diet sodas will not lose weight—they actually feel hungrier and will reach for another snack or drink in an attempt to satisfy that hunger.
Are there any safe alternatives?
Obviously, it is ideal to completely eliminate diet (and regular) sodas from one’s beverage choices as there is no nutritional benefit to the body, and they can clearly cause damage. If you enjoy a flavored beverage, there are some nutritionally beneficial, tasty alternatives.
Mineral water can be a great choice as it can be flavored with citrus, other fruits or honey and will keep you hydrated.
Green tea gives a boost of caffeine without causing jitters and can have positive effects on the brain and nervous system. One favorite naturally fizzy drink is kombucha. This drink is rich in probiotics and will satisfy cravings for a fizzy drink.
While it may be difficult to break the habit of drinking diet sodas on a regular basis, it is absolutely possible, especially if you take preemptive steps and load up your kitchen with other healthy, flavorful drink choices.
When you eliminate diet sodas, your body will almost immediately begin to recover from the negative impacts that have occurred, and that is worth a short amount of discomfort to break a harmful habit!
But do watch out for similar ingredients in other food products. These ingredients can seriously damage your gut and it is best to avoid at all cost.
If you have a weak digestive system, and suffering from digestive issues, go to the next page and learn more about the 3 tips to reverse these digestive-related issues –
About the Author:
Emma Deangela is the best selling author of The Alkaline Diet Program and 80/20 Fat Loss. She has helped over tens of thousands of men and women to lose weight and transform their health with sound nutrition advice. Learn how you can lose weight fast – How to lose weight by adding these alkaline foods.
When did you last drink diet soda? Would you still drink it?
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