The potential for detrimental health effects such as weight gain and type 2 diabetes from excess soda consumption have been shown in numerous observational studies. This topic has become especially pertinent in light of the Mayor Bloomberg’s recent attempt to ban excessively large sodas in New York. However, if sugar sweetened beverages are a problem, what about diet sodas? I admit, in grad school, I definitely drank my fair share of Diet Coke (how else can you get through it without excessive amounts of caffeine!). This is also something that would come up frequently with patients, especially those with diabetes. I always suggest water first, but so many of them hated just plain water after drinking sugary beverages for years. Hesitantly, I would offer diet beverages as an option.
According to the position paper on sweeteners from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, there is no conclusive evidence that artificial sweeteners contribute to weight gain, cancer (other than in a few rat studies which cannot be directly applied to humans), or type 2 diabetes. They did note, that overweight individuals tend to consume more artificial sweeteners though…
Part of the reason it is so hard to put a thumb on whether artificial sweeteners are truly harmful or not is that studies often contradict themselves. In the last 2 months, two research articles both looking at data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study came to two different conclusions.
- Study 1 – Consumption of Sweet Beverages and Type 2 Diabetes Incidence in European adults: Results from EPIC-InterAct: This study used data from over 10,000 individuals and found a 18% increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes only in those who drank at least 12 ounces of sugar sweetened beverages a day regardless of weight. There was no significant risk from artificially sweetened beverages after adjusting for weight.
- Study 2 – Consumption of Artificially and Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Incident Type 2 Diabetes in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition Cohort: This study indicated that women who routinely drank approximately 12-20 ounces of either sugar sweetened or artificially sweetened beverages per week were both at much higher risk for type 2 diabetes than those who rarely consume these beverages. The women who drank >20 ounces of artificially sweetened beverages per week were actually 68% more likely to develop diabetes even after adjusting for weight. (Verses 30% in the sweetened beverages group.)
This is just one example, but obviously, we need more research before we can really make any firm statements about whether artificial sugars are “bad”. (Even though, I may wish I could say they were proven unhealthy based on research evidence.)
As someone who promotes getting their nutrition from whole foods, I would rather you avoid chemically altered sugars! (I confess I do, on a rare occasion, drink a diet soda though…) Water truly is the best beverage. If you aren’t one who loves water, try adding some lemon or orange wedges, berries, fresh mint, or cucumbers to your water bottle to add a hint of natural flavoring. (Check out these water flavoring tips via F00d Adventures!) Juice too is ok, but I usually recommend mixing it half and half with water. Although it’s natural sugar in juice, it’s still sugar! Tea and coffee minus the sugar are great beverages as well!
What do you think? Are you pro diet beverages?