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Study: Diet soda may do more harm than good
July 10th, 2013
05:01 PM ET

Study: Diet soda may do more harm than good

Diet soda drinkers have the same health issues as those who drink regular soda, according to a new report published Wednesday.

Purdue University researchers reviewed a dozen studies published in past five years that examined the relationship between consuming diet soda and health outcomes. They then published an opinion piece on their findings in the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, saying they were “shocked” by the results.

"Honestly, I thought that diet soda would be marginally better compared to regular soda in terms of health," said Susan Swithers, the report's author and a behavioral neuroscientist and professor of psychological sciences. “But in reality it has a counterintuitive effect.”

Artificial sweeteners in diet soda fulfill a person’s craving for a sweet taste, without the calories. But that's the problem, according to researchers. Think of it like crying wolf.

The fake sugar in diet sodas teases your body by pretending to give it real food. But when your body doesn't get the things it expects to get, it becomes confused on how to respond. While the studies they reviewed only looked at diet soft drinks, the researchers suggest that this could apply to other products that contain artificial sweeteners as well.

"You've messed up the whole system, so when you consume real sugar, your body doesn't know if it should try to process it because it's been tricked by the fake sugar so many times," says Swithers.

On a physiological level, this means when diet soda drinkers consume real sugar, the body doesn’t release the hormone that regulates blood sugar and blood pressure.

Video: Are diet sodas dangerous to your health?

Diet soda drinkers also tend to pack on more pounds than those who don’t drink it, the report says.

“Research shows that sweet taste can increase appetite and the regular consumption of the high intensity sweetness of artificial sweeteners may encourage sugar cravings and dependence,” says CNN diet and fitness expert Dr. Melina Jampolis.

The artificial sweeteners also dampen the "reward center" in your brain, which may lead you to indulge in more calorie-rich, sweet-tasting food, according to the report.

The American Beverage Association says the report was "an opinion piece, not a scientific study."

"Low-calorie sweeteners are some of the most studied and reviewed ingredients in the food supply today," the association said in a statement. "They are safe and an effective tool in weight loss and weight management, according to decades of scientific research and regulatory agencies around the globe."

Diet soda's negative effects are not just linked to weight gain, however, the report says.

It found that diet soda drinkers who maintained a healthy weight range still had a significantly increased risk of the top three killers in the United States: diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

"We've gotten to a place where it is normal to drink diet soda because people have the false impression that it is healthier than indulging in a regular soda," says Swithers. "But research is now very clear that we need to also be mindful of how much fake sugar they are consuming."

There are five FDA-approved artificial sweeteners: acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One), aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), neotame, saccharin (SugarTwin, Sweet'N Low), and sucralose (Splenda).

“Saccharin was one of the first commercially-available artificially sweeteners, and it’s actually a derivative of tar,” says Swithers.

Even natural sweeteners like Stevia, which has no calories and is 250 times sweeter than regular sugar, are still processed extracts of a natural plant and may have increased health risks.

“Just because something is natural does not always mean that it is safer,” says Jampolis.

There more studies and research that need to be done. But in the meantime, experts say: Limit consumption.

“No one is saying cut it out completely,” says Swithers. “But diet soda should be a treat or indulgence just like your favorite candy, not an everyday thing.”

Sugary drinks linked to 180,000 deaths worldwide


soundoff (794 Responses)
  1. Marcia C

    Chemicals? OMG, I hope the author is a 12 years old kid. And even then it's bizarre when you think some proofreading happened for sure.

    July 10, 2013 at 23:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kev

      What's wrong with the word "chemicals" ?

      July 10, 2013 at 23:39 | Report abuse |
    • CMFJ

      @Kev

      Because all the molecules of the body and the foods we eat are "chemicals". When I read that, I thought the same thing Marcia did.

      The author should have said "unnatural chemicals" or "synthetic chemicals", but even then, it is leading. Many natural chemicals are toxic. Many unnatural/synthetic chemicals are beneficial to us, eg aspirin.

      More importantly, naturally sweet things are chemicals, as well. SImply saying artificial sweeteners are "chemicals" is useless at best and misleading at worst.

      July 11, 2013 at 00:16 | Report abuse |
    • rollybobo

      you hope the author is a 12-year-old kid? Then the mistake is more acceptable? Anyway, I am convinced that diet soda is a menace.

      July 11, 2013 at 01:02 | Report abuse |
    • KatranM

      Famous conversation between my aunt, a microbiologist, and another parent at her child's school:

      Friend: I've been boiling water because I've heard it has chemicals in it!
      Aunt: But boiling water just concentrates those chemicals.
      Friend: Really? So water has chemicals in it?
      Aunt: Well, yes.
      Friend: So I suppose we'd better stop drinking water, then.
      Aunt, mischievous: Gosh, when you put it that way, I suppose so.

      July 11, 2013 at 01:30 | Report abuse |
  2. lladnarrj

    Did anyone expect diet soda (or soda of any kind) to be good for you? This study also fails to point out that people who drink diet soda tend to be overweight to begin with, so it's tough to prove cause vs effect here. Drink seltzer if you crave carbonation! If you're a habitual soda drinker your body will think seltzer is far too bitter at first, but it will adjust quickly.

    July 10, 2013 at 23:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • fitnessmodel

      i have been drinking diet coke for years now. i have increased and dropped my bodyweight plenty of times as i am a fitness model. offseason on season i drink my diet coke. since jan i have dropped 30 kg again for summer and i didnt stop my diet coke. and by the way i know plenty of bodybuilders who drink diet coke. stay away from sugar instead. avoid juice!!!

      July 11, 2013 at 00:13 | Report abuse |
    • anonymous

      why would you drink seltzer? that is the most disgusting tasting stuff mankind has ever created for consumption.

      July 11, 2013 at 00:40 | Report abuse |
    • Woodrow

      Fitnesmodel – After that I'm not sure if you're trying to demonstrate people who drink diet soda are unhealthy (as in – your yo-yo diet that you described is terribly unhealthy regardless of your 'fit' appearance), or if you're saying because you drink it and you're a model that it's alright.

      July 11, 2013 at 01:02 | Report abuse |
    • Kai

      It also leaves out some things. I don't drink diet soda to lose weight or avoid calories, I drink it because I'm diabetic, so consuming a lot of carbs is bad for me for completely different reasons (including fruit juices, and honesty I'd rather die young than have to drink nothing but water for the rest of my life). What effect does it have on people who's bodies don't release any significant amount insulin in the first place? Questions ignored...

      July 11, 2013 at 03:36 | Report abuse |
    • brettsfitnesstips

      You're right. It's tough to say there is a direct effect when this was just an observational study.

      September 5, 2013 at 23:57 | Report abuse |
  3. piece of health

    WEll it is a personal decision whether you want to be healthy and look healthy or pack all the junk food and sodas, The path to the health is to eat balanced diet containing fruits and vegetables, protein, carbohydrates (including sugar – yes it is carb) and healthy fats. The only actually liquid that our body needs is water, the rest is just a treat. And SODA ? Well I CLEAN my jewellery in Coke or Pepsi 🙂 !!! You should try it too... If you are interested how to achieve an optimal health, let me know. Have yourself a wonderful day!

    July 10, 2013 at 23:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • theobc

      smug and holier than thou. you sound like a lot of fun.

      July 11, 2013 at 00:06 | Report abuse |
    • Meghan Anderson

      I clean my clothes in water. I clean my dishes in water. I clean my floors with water.

      FWIW your stomach is full of acid that can eat a hole in your jeweley and coins.

      July 11, 2013 at 01:10 | Report abuse |
    • Kai

      Gotta agree with Theobc. Life isn't about breathing for as long as you possibly can. Life is about living.

      July 11, 2013 at 03:38 | Report abuse |
  4. Beat8675

    Artificial sweeteners also give me the runs. So down with that sort of thing!

    July 10, 2013 at 23:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Name*bobytrue

    Every fatty I know drinks diet coke while shoving a Big Mac in mouth ... Headline says it best MAY do mate harm or may not... This is a news story to push cokeacola onto the ads world wide on web by a bs study... $$$$$

    July 10, 2013 at 23:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dee

      Every fatty you know...wow you sound like a great friend.

      July 11, 2013 at 01:36 | Report abuse |
  6. mickinmd

    Began a serious calorie counting diet in November and have gone steadily from 294 lb to 253 lb in eight months, almost an even 5 per month. To help avoid snacking in the evening I began to drink water instead of diet soda. Admittedly, I drink more water than the amount of soda I used to drink, but I'm amazed now that my bags of chips, pretzels, etc. are lasting a week or more instead of a couple days without any serious cravings. I've been wondering if it's the diet soda that triggered the desire to snack.

    July 10, 2013 at 23:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Deb

      Great job! Keep it going!

      July 11, 2013 at 00:09 | Report abuse |
    • soraya102

      Congrats!! I wish I had your strenght!! =)

      July 11, 2013 at 03:10 | Report abuse |
  7. JJ

    Oh, please. What BS. If diet soda drinkers have the same problems as those who drink regular soda but are otherwise healthy it means that it is an equalizer.

    July 10, 2013 at 23:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. MrCrewel Dude

    Duh, old news!

    July 10, 2013 at 23:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. be nice

    Why do people need to become hateful in posts? You can state your opinion or facts without doing so at the expense of someone else.

    My opinion is that some overweight people are so because of lack of exercise and poor choices in foods. Yes there are those who consume too many calories; however, some of these people battle weight gain because their caloric intake must be very low compared to most people. My friend can consume only 1200 calories per day without gaining weight, and she is an exerciser.

    July 10, 2013 at 23:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Dapple

    I find it funny by most of the comments. Read something and everyone becomes an expert on the topic all of a sudden.

    July 10, 2013 at 23:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Israel

    how could anyone drink diet soda?? seriously that stuff tastes so bad. Not to mention it's BEEN bad for you, people like me have been trying to warn people not to drink that stuff for the better part of the last decade at least. It's seriously bad news for you and your body. This "study" just underscores that fact.

    July 11, 2013 at 00:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dee

      You probably have some things you consume that other people don't like, not that hard to understand.

      July 11, 2013 at 01:37 | Report abuse |
  12. wrm

    "Natural sweeteners, like Stevia – which has no calories and is 250 times sweeter than regular sugar – __is not a chemical__, but is still a processed extract of a natural plant, and increases your health risks similar to artificial sweeteners."

    Are you r*tarded?

    July 11, 2013 at 00:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • anonymous

      cool, it's not a chemical! it must be nothingness then!

      July 11, 2013 at 00:42 | Report abuse |
    • dx2718

      They mean it's not artificially created in a chemistry lab. It's not man-made.

      July 11, 2013 at 02:04 | Report abuse |
  13. wrm

    I have control over what I eat. Whatever I'm craving, whether exacerbated by diet soda or the direction of the prevailing winds, I have the ability to choose what I eat and don't eat. Probabilistic models are great if you're looking into health trends of the overall population but you aren't a slave to those trends. Enjoy whatever it is you enjoy just balance the risk-reward reasonably and life will be good.

    July 11, 2013 at 00:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dx2718

      You may choose to eat whatever you want, but if you don't give your body what *it* wants, it will rebel. Generally it has good reasons for telling you what to do (i.e. it needs nutrients to survive). Sometimes it is confused. Either way, if you disobey it, you will suffer. There's only so much suffering people are willing to endure, especially if they have jobs to do and families to take care of. It's hard to be a functional human being if you're not feeling well.

      July 11, 2013 at 02:06 | Report abuse |
  14. Jimh77

    Makes perfect sense to me! Poison is poison, Monsanto is killing us with all kinds of their poisons with the governments aide since Monsanto has infiltrated our government. = Our Government is a group of Anti-Americans that no longer serves the people of America and needs to be eliminated.

    July 11, 2013 at 00:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jen

      True. Our government and other world governments are run by psychopaths without morals, ethics or a conscience and are destroying the planet for us and generations of humans and animals to come. Enjoy your time with your loved ones. Enjoy the earth while you can because the world wide FRACKING that is happening will be the death of everyone..

      July 11, 2013 at 01:50 | Report abuse |
  15. magneticink

    ..women tease men by pretending to give them real attention, but when men don't get the things they expect to get, they become confused on how to respond...

    July 11, 2013 at 00:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Dano

    Here's the question no one seems to quite answer: Say you're going to drink three or four sodas a day no matter what. That's just your addiction in life and you can't kick it in the short term. Would it be better to drink three or four cans of diet soda or three or four cans of regular soda. Full Stop. What's the answer?

    July 11, 2013 at 00:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • The dude

      I just kicked a 10 can a day diet soda habit last month. The withdrawal symptoms from coming off the artificial sugar (aspartame) were ridiculous. Severe headaches and depression for around 10 days. It wasn't from the caffeine as I was drinking coffee.

      Regular soda will make you fat. Diet soda can alter your moods, cause hunger cravings, and in general is very bad for you. Check out the Internet for aspartame withdrawal and decide for yourself which is better. It's a trick question. The answer is they're both awful.

      July 11, 2013 at 04:35 | Report abuse |
  17. Akyumen

    The Akyumen Society has several articles and videos related with the harmful effects of the artificial sweeteners and politics related with the issue.

    July 11, 2013 at 00:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. worknman24hours

    Aspartame (NutraSweet)drank for decades leads to permanent brain and nervous system damage.

    This chemical interferes with the brains use of the sugars in the blood that it uses to fuel neuron interactions in the brain.

    Those neurons continuously try over and over to gain more sensitivity to reach a predetermined level of neuron interaction that it senses as normal but because the level of naturally occurring sugars in the blood is diminished and in it's place is a substance that actually destroys the ability of those neurons to communicate-the brain suffocates slowly on NutraSweet.

    Tremors,confusion, memory loss and profound mental imbalances can result from the unrestricted ingestion of Aspartame.

    One day,all of the major Soda companies will be sued in a massive class action suit for the incredible amount of brain and nervous system damage this substance has already done and is doing to all people across the world right now.

    Stay away from it.

    And for Gods sake,keep your kids from drinking this chemical that was originally never meant for human consumption.

    July 11, 2013 at 00:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Jeremy

    How about the health benefits for us Type I diabetics who can drink it without concern to elevated glucose levels?!?

    July 11, 2013 at 00:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. KS

    "Diet soda drinkers also tend to pack on more pounds than those who don’t drink it, the report says." It took them a study to figure this out?

    July 11, 2013 at 00:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • cm74130

      The problem here is determining causation. There is certainly a tendency for people who are overweight to choose diet drinks as one aid to controlling their diet. A correlation isn't surprising, but how to separate the chicken from the egg?

      July 11, 2013 at 00:41 | Report abuse |
  21. sound

    aspartame is bad for your body i don't eat are drink any thing with aspartame in it

    July 11, 2013 at 00:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. ermentrude

    Industry, like bureaucracy, is slow to change. I do not doubt that industry can produce healthy, great tasting drinks, given enough prodding. It's important to keep those who demand sugary drinks, or fake sugary drinks, or just drink water, separated from those who want a great tasting and healthy drink. We will never get there, the ultimate tasty drink that is healthy. And 99% of the people will opt for the tasty over the healthy. The beverage companies are fully capable of fulfilling tasty.

    July 11, 2013 at 00:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jessica

      What I would like to see is a 20 calorie drink. I don't need 220 calories of sugar in 12 ounces, 20 is fine though.

      July 11, 2013 at 02:13 | Report abuse |
  23. cm74130

    "The American Beverage Association says the report was 'an opinion piece, not a scientific study.'" They've probably been studying the successes of Big Tobacco in defending their products over many, many years, before science finally won the argument.

    I find it rather distressing that testing of chemicals, foods, and drugs seem always to lag behind application in the world. I suppose that's an economic fact of life, but it means that we are always fighting a rear guard action to prevent spread of harmful effects. It's little wonder that we can't trace causes of increased obesity, diabetes, or autism, to name a few modern "plagues".

    July 11, 2013 at 00:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Colin in Florida

    "Natural sweeteners, like Stevia – which has no calories and is 250 times sweeter than regular sugar – is not a chemical"

    Really-it's not a chemical? Everything is a chemical. Writer is an idiot.

    July 11, 2013 at 00:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. tuffyturf

    That is why I only drink 100% Organic Free Range Soda, that is allowed to graze naturally on Sugarcane and then is humanely bottled

    July 11, 2013 at 00:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Vicki

    I gave up drinking diet coke when I realized it was affecting my joints. It was making them creak and I gave it up and no longer creak. I think it was the phosphorous in the diet coke.

    July 11, 2013 at 00:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Primal 4 Life

    Just follow the Primal Blueprint. Never worry about this stuff. It's awesome.

    July 11, 2013 at 00:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Vicki

    I gave up drinking diet coke after it was having an effect on my joints. They were creaking. Once I gave up drinking all diet cokes and changed to tea I have not had that problem.

    July 11, 2013 at 00:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. bear

    "Diet soda drinkers also tend to pack on more pounds than those who don’t drink it, the report says"

    Duh! The people drinking diet sodas tend to be those who have weight problems anyway. Most people who are not fat drink sugared sodas since they taste better.

    July 11, 2013 at 00:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Joe

    Telling people who are strongly addicted to sugar is like telling drug addicts to limit drugs. Seriously, you expect me to stop drinking Mio, Crystal Light, Pepsi, Coke and everything else?. How about just one drink a day?. Nope, can't do it. I can't last if I even try to motivate myself to be healthy. It's an addiction, not a choice. At least we know how harmful it is to drink this kind of stuff.

    July 11, 2013 at 00:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • krystal

      The way to beat sugar addiction is to cut off your supply of it completely. After a couple of weeks the cravings will disappear but you have to be careful not to eat or drink anything sweet or they'll come back. There's no easy way to have it in moderation.

      July 11, 2013 at 01:22 | Report abuse |
  31. sick of being sick

    they should just lose all of those soda's and go to water. with lemons or limes.

    July 11, 2013 at 01:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Danny

    It's been known for years that diet soda is no better, and arguably worse, than regular soda, yet every few months they publish a study confirming this and are "shocked" by the results. Don't these researchers ever read what their contemporaries have written on the subject, or do they just beg for money to research something that they can copy from wikipedia?

    July 11, 2013 at 01:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. kaweah

    I'll wait for the response from the scientific community. This sounds like one more case of the press jumping on partial information.

    http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/diet-sodas-and-weight-gain-not-so-fast

    July 11, 2013 at 01:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. nik green

    Common sense will tell most of us that the human body is not designed to cope with certain artificial substances, especially molecules which are not only toxic in themselves, but also have toxic metabolites? But we all know to whom the FDA answers – public health issues are on the bottom of the pecking order.

    July 11, 2013 at 01:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. kaweah

    Chemicals! Look out for those chemicals! Obviously a shortsighted article written by an uninformed pseudo-journalist.
    http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/diet-sodas-and-weight-gain-not-so-fast

    July 11, 2013 at 01:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Mike from Seattle

    I balance out my double quarter pounder meal with a large diet soda. The larger the drink, the greater amount of zero calories, causing my metabolism to burn more food calories by not having to burn soda calories. Cool story.

    July 11, 2013 at 01:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dirk

      That's not quite how it works. You burn more calories because your body has to bring the temperature of the soda up to match your body temperature. That's why the soda is considered to be negative calories, because you burn more calories processing it than you gain from it.

      July 11, 2013 at 01:34 | Report abuse |
    • nigel6

      I like to freeze my double cheeseburgers in liquid nitrogen. Taste a bit stale and I frostbite my stomach lining, but calories just aren't an issue.

      July 11, 2013 at 02:31 | Report abuse |
  37. Ahmed

    I've been exercising and drinking diet soda (sprite zero) with my low carb food ( chicken salad from subway ) daily for past six months, I experienced no cravings for sugar. As you can see I lost weight (35lbs) drinking diet soda. The only time I noticed my weight increased is when I ate white bread or regular soda – PLEASE STAY AWAY FROM SUGARY DRINKS AND WHITE BREAD IF YOU WANT TO LOSE WEIGHT.

    July 11, 2013 at 01:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. odiasuda

    What a bunch of junk science.

    July 11, 2013 at 01:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. nigel6

    Here's a thought for the beverage industry: maybe we want the choice of having something that is 50% or 25% as sweet as your completely unscientific taste-tests suggest. When offered a 1 or 2 oz sippy cup of a sample product, people tend to choose something sickly sweet. Ever think of giving them "real" 12 oz or 16 or 32 oz samples? No, because you're idiots.

    When I have the chance, I fill up my mega-gulp with maybe 75% unsweetened ice tea or diet soda, then add lemonade or 7-up or whatever to taste.

    July 11, 2013 at 02:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Epidi

    I've always considered anything sold on a massive scale by food corporations with flashy colors on its packaging and commercials on TV is likely NOT good for my health. Now pass me some home brewed iced tea please.

    July 11, 2013 at 02:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Seyedibar

    Doctors want to know why? Diet soda drinkers pack on pounds because they're still binge-eaters obsessed with flavor. Real health nuts and people trying to lose weight stick to water and juice.

    July 11, 2013 at 02:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. NlGGA BOO?

    I'm not a big fan of diet soda, but I do love me some fried chicken and watermelon.

    July 11, 2013 at 02:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. DeepThought

    Many of these artificial sweetener studies are so-called epidemiological studies (population based studies), conducted via questionnaires. A correlation between diet soda consumption and metabolic disorders is clear. But, correlation is not causation. Artificial sweetener consumption may be merely a marker for someone who is on a diet – because they need to be. In this sense, of course, people who are obese or diabetic may consume more diet soda – but this in no way implies that artificial sweetener is necessarily involved in the metabolic disorders. Let's see a real clinical study; not unwarranted conjecture based on population studies.

    July 11, 2013 at 03:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Richard

    Do liberals EVER get tired of social engineering?

    July 11, 2013 at 03:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Socalc

    > "...published as an opinion piece in the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism."

    So the results/study/piece was not peer-reviewed? I wonder why they didn't want it peer-reviewed ?

    July 11, 2013 at 03:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Socalc

    > "...published as an opinion piece in the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism."

    So the research/study/piece was not peer-reviewed then? I wonder why the authors didn't want it peer-reviewed before publication.

    July 11, 2013 at 03:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Richard

    "I'm Michael Bloomberg and I authorized this message!"

    July 11, 2013 at 03:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. George W

    Now, I am really confused!! I am confused because this is far from being a scientific report/study. Peace is war, War is peace!

    July 11, 2013 at 04:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. already fat

    people who drink it are already over weight so its only natural they are going to gain more weight.if they had any discipline they would not be fat in the first place..put the blame for being slobs where it belongs...

    July 11, 2013 at 04:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Lepke

    This is a misleading article.

    July 11, 2013 at 04:54 | Report abuse | Reply
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