A professor of medicine explains why he hasn’t quit diet soda

What do you expect from a book called: The Bad Food Bible: How and Why to Eat Sinfully? Would you expect to find out that it’s okay to drink regular Coke or Diet Coke?

The answer may surprise you.

The book is written by Aaron Carroll, a pediatrician and professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine. He says that Diet Coke is actually healthier than regular Coke.

Many articles suggest your body is better off avoiding Diet Coke.

Why would a medical expert come to the opposite conclusion?

His reasoning is like this. There has been more research on the negative health effects of drinking regular soda than on the regular intake of diet soda. We know from research that regular soda with its high sugar content is bad for your health and leads to weight gain, obesity and diabetes, so avoid it at all cost.

On the other hand, “The existing science on diet soda hasn’t gotten the golden seal of approval that comes after extensive studies in humans. The research we do have is mostly in mice, but so far it suggests that the artificial sweeteners in soda are not overwhelmingly bad for our health,” suggests Carroll.

Credit: Sean Locke Photography / Shutterstock

For that reason, says Carroll, it’s fine to drink diet soda occasionally, but you should never drink regular soda.

“If I have to choose between diet drinks and those with added sugar, I’ll go with the diet,” the doctor writes.

The message is: when faced with a choice between regular soda drink and a diet drink, we have overwhelming proof of the link between regular soda and poor health consequences.

Carroll says: “There’s a potential — and likely very real — harm from consuming added sugar. There is likely none from artificial sweeteners”.

What about the harmful effects of artificial sweeteners?

The fact that sugar is definitely bad for your health doesn’t mean that the alternative is not also bad for your health.

There has been research on the harmful effects of artificial sweeteners. Are those to be ignored?

Well, not quite. It’s just that they were not up to standard, according to Carroll.

Some of the scientific studies on diet soda and artificial sweeteners have linked saccharin to cancer and have found that people who regularly consume diet drinks are heavier than people who don’t.

Of these studies, Carroll says “every one of those studies was riddled with enough errors not to be taken seriously. The way they were communicated to the public made it look like they were far more conclusive and severe than they really were.”

We are talking about 50 studies with rats and in only one of them was there an indication that saccharin seemed to cause cancer. These rats were fed huge amounts of saccharin, more than people would ever consume. And on top of that, this research was done on rats who were already vulnerable to cancer.

Here’s the bottom line:

Saccharin doesn’t cause cancer. According to Carroll, rather than concluding that saccharin causes cancer, a better conclusion is: “Rats are more vulnerable to side effects from saccharin than are people, for whom there’s no clear evidence of risk.”

Do artificial sweeteners cause dementia?

Research published this spring suggest that diet soda could cause dementia, but experts have warned that we must not read too much into the results.

The researchers themselves admitted that they could not prove that drinking diet soda causes dementia because their study was merely observational and based on details people provided in questionnaires logging their food and drink habits. Such research can show connection, not cause.

But here’s the thing: there is plenty of research that proves without a doubt that regular soda is really bad for your health.

One review of thirty studies found a positive association between the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and body weight. Sugar-sweetened beverages, particularly soda, provide little nutritional benefit but lead to weight gain and probably the risk of diabetes, fractures, and dental caries, the review concluded.

Overwhelming evidence that sugary drinks are bad for you

Point is, there is overwhelming proof that sugary drinks, including regular soda drinks increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions, while there is no such proof in connection with diet drinks.

So, if you follow this reasoning, Carroll’s advice makes sense.

“When it comes to sugar and artificial sweeteners, the evidence is as strong as can be: the former is much worse for you than the latter,” he wrote.


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