Is it OK to Drink Diet Soda?

We’ve been noticing several posts about artificial sweeteners in diet soda on Facebook, and wanted to know – is it true? Is diet soda bad for you? Or is it OK to drink diet soda?

For the answers, we reached out to Dr. Barry M. Popkin, W. R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor, School of Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Is it OK to drink diet soda?

Dr. Popkin:

While water, tea or coffee for adults and skim milk (2-3 glasses) for children are preferred, I would strongly recommend diet sweetened beverages over juice, soft drinks or any other sugar beverages. If you are very active and are not worried about calorie intake, juice is fine. But for most Americans who are not overly active, juices are no different than regular soft drinks with no nutritional benefits and empty calories.

Will diet sweeteners enhance our sweetness preference?

Dr. Popkin:

To date in our random controlled trials and other studies, we have not found any adverse effect of consuming a diet sweetened beverage on overall sweetness preference.

What is aspartame? Does it need to be kept at a certain temperature?

Dr. Popkin:

Aspartame is one of our first low-calorie or diet sweeteners. It has existed for many decades and is accepted globally as not representing a risk to our health. Both animal and human research done by recognized scientists have repeatedly shown that aspartame is acceptable. Repeatedly in the 1970s and 1980s, FDA has studied aspartame and approved its use in beverages, baked goods and other foods. Thus there should not be an adverse effect of aspartame at any temperature.

We’ve heard that aspartame can cause all sorts of health problems – is this true?

Dr. Popkin:

There are two groups of Americans. One group is a Big Mac and Diet Coke group (i.e. bad diets and also use diet beverages), and the other group is made up of healthy eaters who also consume diet beverages. Huge longitudinal studies by my group and also Harvard have shown that it is the diet and not the diet beverage that determines whether one will have weight gain or not. Diet beverages, when consumed with a healthy diet, will promote weight loss.

There is absolutely no proof that aspartame or diet soda causes an increased risk of leukemia and lymphoma. There is absolutely no evidence that diet soda destroys brain cells.

6/5/14 Update: A new study indicates diet soda can actually help people lose weight. “If you want to consume diet sodas, it won’t hurt, and it might actually help you lose weight,” said Dr. James O. Hill of the Anschutz Health & Wellness Center at the University of Colorado. Read more here.
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