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
About this blog
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
As opposed to some other substance.
When Spirit Happy Diet researchers in Denmark showed that diet soda caused diabetes and obesity so many people were of course in denial. They showed that the secret to all weight loss is in naturally getting your good insulin to work for you. We are an insulin resistance people today due to junk food,processed foods and food manufacturers chemicals. How did over 3,000 people lose weight naturally with a diabetic diet?
Just google SPIRIT HAPPY DIET
This is not news. These studyies have been out for a while.
Yep... these "studies" get recycled every few months as media filler or as political propaganda to press a health issue. Note they didn't compare regular soda drinkers with diet soda drinkers... they compared diet soda drinkers with non-carbonated, unsweetened beverages like water. Even those who consume diet soda know it isn't as "good for you" as drinking water... but it is certainly better than sucking down the regular soda with all that sugar.
wow our "culture" is dumb
The lesson here: Drink more beer! Sure, it's loaded with carbs (and, okay, there's the alcohol), but it's so good! All in moderation.
Plus it fills you up! 😉
Unless you're in the rare minority, like I'm in, who's allergic to brewer's yeast.
My dad always said his beer had the same thing as my breakfast cereal. Liquid, and grain. So it does make the perfect breakfast drink.
I cut back on my diet coke habit from 4-5 per day to 1 or less. The result is that I've lost almost 20 pounds (10% of my body weight) and I actually feel much better. I drink water like a fish and don't crave it any more.
However, it isn't rocket science to understand that diet coke is fattening. I mean, how many skinny people drink diet coke?
I drank sugared Dr Pepper for years. I quit drinking it 15 years ago and only drink diet sodas and water. My weight dropped 25 pounds to well within normal for my height. Exercise and other diet remained unchanged (exercise 6/week, reasonable caloric intake) before vs after dropping the sugar soda. I'm not buying this report.
Well it's not fattening (contains no fat), nor does it have calories, but it's probably doing other horrible harm to the body like screwing up our endocrine systems and metabolic systems. I don't touch the stuff. If I crave sweets, I'll just have the real thing, but in moderation.
Just because something has "diet" written on the side of it doesn't mean it's suddenly healthy for you.
I don't think many think it's 'healthy', just fewer calories. And while I've given it up about a year and 1/2 ago, for that reason, to eliminate artificial sweeteners, I just liked the taste of a diet pepsi better than a pepsi.
People aren't assigned by a computer whether to drink diet or regular soda. The people who drink diet soda do so because they are already concerned about weight they have gained. How can you filter that out, the fact that the diet soda drinking population is already more at risk before drinking the soda? Some people have super metabolisms and never gain fat so they never have a reason to switch to diet soda.
That is not always the case. All of my thin friends drink diet soda as to not gain weight, none ever had a weight problem.
They took that into account: "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."
this paper is idiotic. the most compelling data it presents correlates the behavior of diet-drink consumption with things like obesity, hypertension and diabetes. this says absolutely nothing because the simplest explanation of this data is that obese people are more likely to consume diet drinks.
the ideal scientific study is double blind with an effective placebo, i.e. take a sample pool and give half of them ASBs and the other half fake ASBs – that can't be done because the hypothesis is effectively addressing a placebo taste effect – you cant make a placebo of a placebo. however, studies where they assign ASB consumption to randomly selected individuals from a control group would be much more significant than the behavioral correlation data. some of those studies are presented in this paper, and surprise, surprise, they show ASBs are better for you than SSBs, with no relevance to this paper's hypothesis
the authors' headline-grabbing hypothesis is virtually a footnote in this paper in terms of the data –  and , a rat study.   are meaningless and at best can be considered background info. that ASB evoke no GLP-1 response and do not attenuate one with any magnitude relative to SSB is kind of a no-brainer.
you should always read the literature with a degree of skepticism, especially if it's addressing some headline-baiting topic like diet soda being bad for you. this might come to a shock to the average slob, but the diet drink companies don't possess a monopoly on nefarious incentives when it comes to studies on this topic. publishing a Cell paper is just as good an incentive to some scientists as the millions of dollars in profits are to the corporations. not all scientists are pure-hearted do-gooders, some of them are careerists and frauds
to me this reads as a good research proposal, all they need to do is say how theyre going to take a sample group, give half seltzer and the other half ASBs and record changes in physiological responses to sugar intake over time.
Anon, thank you for the excellent response.
marcinhouston: I drink diet soda and have for over 10yrs. I switched,not to lose weight but because of my teeth. I sip on soda off and on all day during my work day,and at home. I decided that having my teeth in a continuous sugar bath was not good, (And,yes,I know the acidic nature of soda is bad for the teeth too.) so I switched to diet soda. Initially I lost about 10lbs over a six month period but have put weight back on. I do crave sweets more than I used too. So I'm thinking there's something to this article.
Laboratory chemicals are bad for my body? Shocker.
This is an absolutely worthless and misleading article, devoid of actual science and proper interpretation.
you got it dude- really crap science
And why is that? Did you review the studies that this article is based on yourself?
yep. i actually read the paper because i was going to give up diet drinks if there was something to it. the only relevant data they cite is one rat study. the way the rest of the data is arranged leaves me very skeptical of their intentions, since it's mostly irrelevant or completely insignificant (breaking news! people with diet-related health issues more likely to consume diet beverages! )
Then read the source article. CNN is not an academic journal.
My Dr. told me it was healthier to drink beer than soda or tea with sugar. Problem solved.
Really? We needed a study to determine that diet soda is just as bad as regular soda? You could just hang out in a McDonalds, Subway or Wendy's for an afternoon and watch all the obese people filling their 32oz cups with diet soda thinking that they're consuming something 'healthy'.
I don't think it's that people think diet soda is healthy, they just know it doesn't have sugar calories like the regular soda does. Unfortunately, most people either aren't properly educated on what good nutrition is, or they simply don't put forth the effort to change their eating habits. In this country, it's too easy to grab fast food instead of making a healthy meal. Making a healthy meal isn't hard, it's just people are bombarded by other options that only "look and taste" better.
I got only one word for all of this.. DUH !
Diet soda is a 'treat'? Have they actually tasted one?
Overweight people are at higher risk for the conditions mentioned, and they are more likely to drink diet drinks than normal-weight people. Until this is controlled for these "studies" won't mean much. Also, how can "the taste" of something cause physiological responses? There are many ways to simulate a rich, fatty taste - do those have a physiological effect too?
Its not just the taste, its the similarity of the structures of the compounds. But, it could very well be the taste. Not every process in your body requires direct contact to a receptor to trigger a response. You know how your stomach growls when you smell something good? Your mouth waters when you see something tasty? Not to mention the effects attractive folks have on us sans touch....
"Natural sweeteners, like Stevia – which has no calories and is 250 times sweeter than regular sugar – is not a chemical . . . "
False. Everything is a chemical. The writer should have specified that it is not an entirely artificial chemical, but even that is questionable since it is processed out of a natural source - like everything else artificial is.
Straight stevia leaf is just as sweet as extracted product, you just have a tiny leaf in your tea or whatever.
In defense of Diet anything. It seems and tastes lighter... not the heavy syrupy taste that one gets from "the Real Thing". I will take this message seriously though, because it makes sense. I only drink one or two DCs a day anyway... if that. Mostly water.
But it's sooooo delicious and addictive. As a long term, 64 oz per day, Diet Coke drinker, I'd love to quit just to save money, but I don't like water, tea, or coffee so what's left? Diet Coke is also filling and makes it easier for me to diet because I feel full all the time.
until you burp... uuuurp
I know what you mean, id like a caffeinated lightly flavored sparkling water. Theres also the Rockstar energy waters i found the other day. Loads of caffeine and natural sweeteners.
Newsflash for the author of this article: everything is a chemical – even Stevia and natural sugar – all chemicals.
Amen! The author is trying to use people's chemophobia, which comes from their ignorance of chemistry, to his advantage. Saccharine is actually a derivative of tar? Who cares? Saccharine is NOT tar; it is a different chemical. We can turn amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) into carbon monoxide and cyanide. But proteins are NOT carbon monoxide and cyanide.
Unbelievable! I've been drinking diet soda for more than 40 years. I have it at breakfast and at dinner. I don't eat lunch. I am always dieting and I work out at the gym pretty regularly. I thought I had my diet under control. I don't eat fattening foods. I don't consume alcohol and I don't smoke. Now I'm not supposed to drink diet soda? Water instead? Water only tastes good during my workouts. Natural juices are very expensive. Maybe I'll have to start drinking juices, though....This is awful news to me personally.
People have enough genetic variation that there's going to be exceptions to the rule. You won the "Diet Soda" lottery and probably won't ever have to worry, congratulations.
Unfortunately, there's those out there who stand no chance of being healthy if their food source has anything "fun" in it. For the extreme cases, they got genetic "craps" and will have to subsist on celery and water to avoid becoming a bloated, diabetic mess.
"All of them are chemicals. 'Saccharin was one of the first commercially-available artificially sweeteners, and it’s actually a derivative of tar,' says Swithers."
Everything you drink is a chemical. That's not even the beginning of an argument. Saccharin is completely freaking harmless, has been proved to be harmless again and again and again, it's been around since the time of Teddy Roosevelt.
He never went through any baby stage,
He was a genius at an early age,
Those were the first words he ever spoke,
"Bring me a pizza and a Diet Coke",
Which one's better? To be an overweight genius or to be a healthy person with an average IQ?
Either this story is poorly reported OR this is some of the worst science I have ever read about. If you drink a diet Coke and eat pound of 7 layer cake – you will get fat. Only a true more-on can't figure that one out.
Just like to say that the real sugar Coke and Pepsi is much better than the regular stuff...also, my Dad drank a lot of Diet Pepsi one winter as he was doing a lot of computer work. He started to have strange symptoms (I don't remember any of them, though). He did some research and it was one of the chemicals they put into diet Pepsi that apparently had lots of side effects reported. Remember WOW chips from Lays?
Not all overweight people are over eaters. So what do you call taking in twice the calories you need.
I was utterly shocked to learn that artificial sweeteners are chemicals! All this time, I thought they were... wait, what else is there I can pretend i thought it was? Everything we consume is a chemical, even water. Even natural cane sugar is a chemical.
I do understand that they are artificial, rather than directly from an organic source (after all, they are ARTIFICIAL sweeteners, after all). But "natural" ingredients are just as chemically active as unnatural ones, and no less dangerous overall.
What the?? "Chemicals"? Whoever wrote this has nothing past a 6th grade science education. Very strange
Sorry Edwin I was referring to the article , I agree with you
I loves me some bland, watered-down chemical slop!
well i'm in trouble. i drink diet pop all the time, and yes i'm still fat. i'm also stupid. if not for my two friends in this world (a blow up doll and my dog) i'm not sure if i could handle this article.
The word "chemicals" is misused in the article. Every single thing you eat is composed of chemicals. The adjectives "manmade," or "artificial" preceding "chemicals" makes sense.
Now that's just great! If diet soda is not good for us, what the heck am I suppose to drink with my triple bacon western cheeseburger, jumbo chili cheese fries and double fudge chocolate cake?! Sheesh!!
Yeah.....NOT. I drank regular coke for years and kept the same diet and I eventually packed on too many pounds which pushed me into the obese area. I started drinking diet coke and kept the same diet and I lost 80 lbs and kept the weight off. Again...all I changed was regular to diet coke. 6 large cokes a day for an additional 1200 calories is a whole lot of extra calories.
Whoever performed this study needs to have their credentials and diplomas revoked.
Spot on.. another one of these bs "you'll false justify and reward yourself with skittles" articles. I drink at least 5 DC's a day and i'm in the best shape of my life. My doc actually says i'm underweight. To imply that you'll have the same health as someone who consumes an extra 1500 calories in sugar a day.. is nuts. Everyone's gonna have something wrong with them in their 60's..
What's the alternative? Starbucks is supposed to be better for you? I can't even drink regular soda anymore.. it's so brutal to consume on a regular basis. Excercising works wonders for your vice, people.
The intellectual depth of Purdue research studies in recent years has not been much better than one would see in a high school science class.
You DO have a choice. Stop drinking this poison!!!
I can not believe that this is news. All soda is terrible for you.
This is new news????
All you need to know is one thing: the largest study ever done on sugar was completed earlier this year, and spanned over 100 Countries, with years of data from thousands of people. The results? – Sugar is basically toxic for you. It produces diabetes, independent of weight issues, as well as a large variety of other health problems.
Avoid consuming sugar, and get used to living without it.
Glad I don't drink soda pop, with sugar or artificial sweeteners. I occasionally drink club soda or club soda mixed with lemonade.
Is it causal by a common factor in both diet and regular soda, or is it that diet soda drinkers are about as unhealthy in their lives as regular soda drinkers?
How much money was wasted on this study?
Everybody knows that you won't lose weight if you have 2 Big Macs, large fry and a diet Coke.
"All of them are chemicals"
What is a chemical? All matter, everything around you, including you are made of chemicals. Organic v. man made? Another interesting point of discussion. Well, which would you rather eat, Botulinum toxin (100% organic) or aspartame (man made). There is huge money involved here and the nutracetucal and holistic homeopathic industry is spinning and perpetuating this discussion for their financial gains. In other words the holistic/organic/nutracetucal industry is just as dirty as say Exxon or Pfizer or Dow. Yet many people trust the holistic brands because it is "anti-chemical." That's anti-logic.
It is unclear if this is just poor reporting or spin. Now that I think about it this is just a poorly written piece.
Did they check dental health? This is why I started drinking diet.
The idea that drinking diet soda would interfere with my body's abilty to process real sugar scared me, so I actually read the "study" It's actually an article written after a review of many stuides over 40 years. Even after reviewing 40 studies, this is what the article actually says:
Regular consumption of (artificial sweeteners) MIGHT come to result in weaker responses to sweet tastes when they are
produced by consumption of caloric sweeteners. Some evidence for this type of effect comes from recent studies in rats...To date, brain-imaging studies have provided some support for potentially similar consequences in
humans, but no similar tests of physiological responses have been reported.
The author also adds that many of the studies were not adjusted for BMI.
Bravo for reading the original study!!! Didn't the reporter do this? I guess it's just easier to ask someone's opinion and then feed it to the public. If CNN wants to spend time reporting science all I ask is they check the data in the studies they site in their stories. If they don't then they are doing a disservice to our community. Doesn't CNN have a science editor to filter the BS from data. If not hit me up. I'll do it. How many people will read this and stop drinking diet soda? Let me be clear, I don't know if it's bad for people or not but this story doesn't offer any clarity to the issue.
and 10 years from now they will tell us...oops um we were wrong....yikes....everything in moderation, then no problem folks....got it?....good.
The author needs to look up the definition of "chemical". All artificial and natural sweeteners are chemicals, including sucrose, dextrose, lactose and other sugars- and stevia for that matter. And water is also a chemical and that makes up the vast majority of the soft drink, diet or not. Chemicals do not differ based on their origin- water extracted from urine is indistinguishable from water extracted from a river provided they are purified to a reasonable degree.
There will be a dramatic increase in exercise and dieting when black guys stop dating big fat white women. Not a racist comment, im black, just telling the truth.
The only revelation here is that people need to still consume real sugar. Balance is the key!
How is this news? This has been known for a while now.
The most critical statement in this article should've been explored. It was so crucial, but Gupta didn't investigate it. It was made by Swithers: ". . 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." So Swithers unequivocally concludes that the body doesn't know what to do with an artificial sweetener. Are you kidding me? These products have been in our diet for decades, fully approved by our government, but our body just flips a coin?
You don't need an article to tell you what you should already be able to figure out for yourself. Look at the people who drink most of the "diet" drinks. They're HUGE. Look at the people drinking beverages made from real SUGAR, they're lean. It isn't because "they can handle it better." It's because it is BETTER FOR YOU!
Show of hands time...how many people think corporations put people ahead of profits? Precisely.
Show of hands time #2...how many people think LOBBYING organizations put the interests of the public ahead of their own?
Want a miserable life? Raise your hand twice.
"Natural sweeteners, like Stevia... is not a chemical..."
Thank you mass media for your brilliant insight.
My son lost 75 #s when he went from regular sugar pop to diet pop. I knew it wasn't his eating habits. Can't tell me he isn't healthier after drinking diet soda. We have heard this anti-diet pop rhetoric all before.