Are Diet Drinks A Safe Alternative to Soda?

Are Diet Drinks A Safe Alternative to Soda?
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The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that sugary drinks are one of the main sources of added sugars for Americans. These include soda, energy drinks, fruit punch, and sports drinks. Drinking too many sugary drinks puts many Americans at risk for type 2 diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. A recent research study found that even healthy people who drink more than two sodas a day show clear signs of kidney damage.

Curb Your Sweet Tooth

If you have diabetes you need to carefully plan how many carbohydrates you eat each day. A single can of soda has 40 grams of carbohydrates, so you could easily lose control of your blood glucose levels from drinking soda. What can a person with diabetes who has a “sweet tooth” do? In an effort to protect people from the damaging effects of sugary drinks, many drink companies started to sell diet drinks. Diet drinks replace sugar with artificial sweeteners, or sugar substitutes. Artificial sweeteners may also be called non-nutritive or low calorie sweeteners. How do they work? Imagine the sweetness of sugar. Now, multiply that by 100. That is the sweetening power of an artificial sweetener. Most artificial sweeteners have no calories or carbohydrates. If they do have calories, there are usually no more than 5 grams of carbohydrates in each drink serving. Zero calorie drinks can help prevent spikes in your blood glucose levels. Since they have no sugar they can also prevent you from developing cavities.

Too Good to be True?

Since artificial sweeteners are so new, some people are not sure if they are healthy and safe. You may have heard some people say that they worry because these sweeteners are made in labs. However, based on his own studies and on recent scientific research, Dr. Mark Pereira of the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota believes that artificially sweetened drinks can be a good choice. In fact, one recent study showed that artificially sweetened drinks may actually protect you from diabetes, heart disease, and strokes.

What the FDA Has to Say

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a government agency that ensures the safety of products sold in the United States, has approved five different artificial sweeteners:

  • Aspartame (Sold under brand names NutraSweet and Equal; this one is actually 200 times sweeter than sugar)
  • Sucralose (Popularly known as Splenda, this artificial sweetener packs a punch 600 times sweeter than sugar)
  • Saccharin (Sold as Sweet Twin or Sweet ‘N Low)
  • Acesulfame K (Sold as Sweet One or Sunett)
  • Neotame
  • Stevia another sweetener used in many diet drinks is Stevia. This sweetener is made from a plant with sweet leaves. It is usually sold under brand names such as Truvia or PureVia. According to the FDA, this sweetener is Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), which means it is safe in moderate amounts.

As you may know, artificial sweeteners are used in more than just drinks. They have become a part of many popular recipes. They are found in frozen foods, baked foods, and even yogurt. They can be used to sweeten your coffee, tea, or your serving of fruit. Considering the health risks of sugar sweetened drinks, it may be worthwhile to find ways to replace sugar in your meal plan with moderate amounts of artificial sweeteners.

“I believe that artificially sweetened drinks can be a good choice. In fact, one recent study showed that artificially sweetened drinks may actually protect you from diabetes, heart disease, and strokes.”

Dr. Mark Pereira, School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota


By Roxana Marincas, RD Reviewed by Robert Ehrman, MD

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