In 1963, Coca-Cola released their new drink “Tab”. Aimed at people keeping “tabs” on their weight, Tab was an overnight success. Tab was ordered by Marty McFly in Back To The Future, quaffed by the celebrities of the day, and advertised by Elle McPherson. Despite some somewhat dodgy advertising campaigns aimed at women, the diet cola was going places.
All until a study released in the 70’s prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to brand the sweetener used in the drink as a carcinogen.
Tabs main sweetener, saccharin, was found to cause bladder cancer when literally massive doses were consumed by lab rats. Even though there were no human studies to back this up, the United States Congress still slapped a warning label on the can that wasn’t removed until 2000 after almost 30 years of no human evidence.
While diet drinks, and science, have moved on, endless debate and controversy still surround regularly drinking them. Whether it’s your mum telling you “it’s worse than the full-fat stuff”, the vegan conspiracy theorist at work who tells you it’s the leading cause of all cancer, or your mate saying it’ll make you fat; swigging back the odd Diet Coke is still a talking point.
Do artificial sweeteners make you fat?
Despite containing essentially zero Calories, diet sodas are often claimed to make people fat. Scientists have put this to the test several times.
- A meta-analysis by Miller et al. set out to examine the relationship between low-Calorie sweeteners and body fat levels.
- They looked at a total of 24 studies and found that drinking diet soda reduced body fat, BMI, and waist circumference.
- So much for actually causing fat gain.
In some cases, as a study by Peters et al shows, diet soda can actually improve weight loss on a diet.
- In a 12 week study, 279 overweight or obese people were split into water, or diet soda groups.
- Apart from their drinks, their diets were set up identically to lose 1 to 2 pounds of weight per week.
- By the end of the study, the diet soda group had lost significantly more weight than the group that just drank water.
While this may seem confusing, the result is likely to do with how well the people who were drinking diet soda stuck to their diet compared to the unfortunate people who only got to drink water. Perhaps diet drinks allow something sweet, or maybe the bubbles help fill you up? Either way, at the very least, diet drinks do nothing to make you gain weight.
Do artificial sweeteners derail your diet?
To be clear from the outset, if you consume fewer Calories than you burn, you’ll lose weight. Insulin, a hormone that facilitates carbohydrate and protein metabolism, won’t stop you losing weight. Despite this fact, the idea that higher insulin levels will completely stop you losing weight on a diet are commonplace, and artificial sweeteners are often to blame.
Even if we’re certain that transient high insulin doesn’t halt fat loss, is there actually any truth that artificial sweeteners cause an insulin release?
- Renwick et al reviewed all of the literature on artificial sweeteners to see if there was any truth to the claim.
- After looking at all of the studies, they concluded that “There was no consistent evidence that intense sweeteners cause insulin release or lower blood sugar in normal subjects.”
Even if insulin was bad, chugging down a Coke Zero won’t do anything to affect it.
Do artificial sweeteners make you sick?
Now you definitely know that diet soda or any food containing artificial sweeteners don’t cause you to gain fat or stop you from losing it on a cut, I want to address one last thing; the claim made that diet soda causes diseases.
Aspartame, found in Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Diet Dr Pepper, Sprite Zero, and most other diet sodas, is the poster boy for any health-related alarmist claims about causing cancer or other diseases. Despite being studied more than 1,000 times, and being cleared by every food committee or regulation in existence, it still gets regularly linked to causing diseases in the media and online.
Due to the obvious problems with testing whether a product causes cancer in humans, the vast majority of research is performed in mice, where they can dose Mickey and friends up with ludicrous amounts, impossible to be consumed by actual people in equivalent doses.
The acceptable daily intake for aspartame, set by the FDA, is 50mg per kg of body weight. That is roughly 18 to 19 cans of diet soda, but when given 100mg, 150mg, and 200mg per kilogram of bodyweight, Stegnik et al found that there were “no changes noted in any of the blood chemistry profile parameters measured 24 h after aspartame ingestion, compared to values noted before administration.”
Conspiracy theories aside, there is still no compelling human data to suggest that artificial sweeteners are bad for your health.
Despite what you’ve heard, drinking sweetened diet drinks will not make you fat, derail your diet, or give you an incurable disease.
In fact, drinking diet soda while trying to get lean will at worst set you back a few quid, and at best might actually help you stick to your diet.
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