Diet soda first gained popularity in the mid-20th century. Since then, it has become available at virtually every grocery and convenience store, becoming a staple in American households. These drinks claim to offer the same taste and flavor as their real sugar counterparts, without the calories. Despite being zero-calorie products, nutritionists have insisted that these drinks may not be healthier than regular soda options.
“The most commonly found artificial sweetener in diet soda is aspartame, followed by stevia and Splenda,” said Lindsay Fahnestock, professor of health science. “I tend to consume the Splenda and stevia-based sodas over the aspartame ones when I do have them. This is because there is more and more peer-reviewed information regarding associations between aspartame and various health issues.”
Fahnestock said that both diet and regular soda have risks and recommends consuming as little as possible to maintain a healthy diet. Regular soda contains high fructose corn syrup, which Fahnestock said has been associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
“We know everything has its risks and pros and cons, so being aware of moderation and consumption overall is very important,” Fahnestock said.
Anna Koczwara, junior nutrition and food science major, does not drink soda often, but does drink diet on occasion. Koczwara explained that despite the negative effects of large amounts of artificial sweeteners, she prefers to save the calories on the rare occasion she drinks soda.
“(Diet soda) has no calories or sugar,” Koczwara said. “The artificial sweeteners can be harmful in large amounts or if consumed often. If I’m only drinking diet soda every once in a while, I feel like it doesn’t pose any harm.”
Koczwara shared how artificial sugars are used to imitate the taste of regular soda and the sweeteners that are used come from sucrose to make the drink sugar-free.
“Artificial sugars in large amounts can lead to an increase in insulin in the body and also affect the way that real sugar is processed,” Koczwara said. “Not being able to process real sugar can lead to Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.”
Alana McCormick, junior nutrition and food sciences major, said she prefers regular soda even if it is not the healthiest choice. McCormick explained that these sweeteners are produced in a lab, designed to imitate natural sugar.
“Artificial sweeteners are different but have a very similar chemical pathway to normal sugar,” McCormick said. “This chemical pathway is typically created in a lab, and they make the chemical structure so similar that it mimics the flavor of sugar.”
McCormick also discussed the correlation between diet soda, diabetes and the other various negative health effects of the drink.
“Processed sugars still cause obesity, increased appetite and poor blood sugar regulation, ultimately leading to diabetes,” McCormick said. “This occurs because there are no natural calories or energy for the body to breakdown, but the insulin is still released due to the pancreas mistaking the artificial sugar for natural sugar.”
“When real sugar is broken down, it is used to help create energy for your body, and in moderation is helpful for bodily functions.”