Written by: Dale Wickins
Artificial sweeteners have taken a lot criticism over recent years, citing many health issues ranging from weight gain (the opposite of a “diet” product) to it actually causing cancer. These are serious claims as many people around the world use these products, mainly in the form of diet soft drinks – which is the focus of this post.
What exactly is an artificial sweetener? It is a replacement for refined sugar in food products. It’s got all the sweetness, without the calories. Sounds great! But what are the potential side effects of consuming this synthetic substitute?
We all have an idea about artificial sweeteners, what they are and what they are supposed to do for us. Promises of reduced calories and weight loss are the main “benefits” of artificial sweeteners. Is this the case though?
When it comes to reducing calorie intake, the answer is a resounding yes.
There is only one main difference between regular soda and diet soda, and that is the ingredient that gives these beverages their sweet taste. Diet soda contains artificial sweetener, and regular soda contains refined sugar. This is where one sees the difference in the amount of calories that each soda has. Sugar is loaded with calories, while artificial sweeteners have close to zero calories.
When you consider that almost all of the calories in a can of regular soda comes from the added sugar, it’s obvious that the choice would be the diet soda if:
” Weight loss is the goal (diet soda has less calories)
” Reducing the risk of major diseases such as obesity, diabetes Type II and cardiovascular disease (high intakes of refined sugar increases the risk of these major diseases)
When one looks at the broader topic of weight loss, the research has some surprising results. The substitution of regular soda with diet soda has actually been shown to lead to weight gain. How can this be true if you are reducing your calories so much? Although diet soda contains much less calories, it does not guarantee that one’s total daily caloric intake will be lower than when you were drinking regular soda.
How exactly does one gain weight then after you switched to diet soda? Where do the extra calories come from? The answer to this question seems to be psychological in nature. Since a person knows they are consuming a “diet” or “weight loss” product, they assume that they can then consume more food and their daily intake will still be reduced. For example, a person may think, “I’m drinking diet soda so I can have three slices of pizza instead of two”. The problem comes in when people are not aware of how many calories they are actually consuming. They end up overcompensating and actually increasing their total daily caloric intake and this is what causes the gain in weight.
What about the side effects?
The main concern about artificial sweeteners is that it may lead to cancer. This is specific to the artificial sweetener Aspartame. When the body metabolises aspartame, it is broken down into three substances, namely phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol. We don’t have worry about phenylalanine and aspartic acid as these are amino acids (proteins) that naturally occur in sources of protein such as meat. Methanol is the cause for concern here.
Methanol is converted to formaldehyde, a substance that has been proven to be carcinogenic. What this means is that formaldehyde has the potential to cause cancer. A very serious problem indeed! Does this mean that diet soda causes cancer? According to the research… No. In order to actually increase the levels of formaldehyde in the body to dangerous levels, one would need to consume more than 40x the average amount of diet soda Americans drink. This equates to 50+ litres a day! An impossible feat no matter which way you look at it.
So the question remains, is drinking diet soda or using artificial sweeteners better than your regular sugar? It seems more research needs to be done to confidently answer this question. There are other health problems that have been linked to the use of artificial sweeteners. These range from decreased insulin sensitivity to depression. We need more evidence to make conclusive judgements on the discussed issues.
Use artificial sweeteners or not? Decide for yourself! Register for a fitness qualification and learn all about how the human body works and the best ways to live a healthy live.
Have a look at this advanced calorie calculator: https://www.fitnessverve.com/calorie-tdee-calculator/