"They may be free of calories but not of consequences." - Professor Helen Hazuda speaking on diet soda.
After knocking the wind out of my mates sails regarding his healthy fruit salad and apple juice, the next topic that came up on the radar was his diet soft drink. You see, the next logical step for my friend to take whilst on his weight loss plan was to be drinking the 'diet' stuff instead of 'normal' stuff.
I mean, if a soft drink has the word 'diet', 'sugar free' or 'low cal' etc... It's got to be healthy for you right?
His new found enthusiasm for his health and weight loss plan had already taken a dent regarding fruit and sugar, so I understood the switch to sugar free soft drinks. After he finished guzzling down his cold can on a sunny day I said one word to him... Aspartame.
In a nutshell, this was my response...
THE REAL THING?
I'm a big believer that the answer lays within the questions we ask ourselves. Ask a better question and you usually get a better answer. So the questions I asked my friend was this...
Did you know that your zero calorie, sugar free, diet soft drink that you've just guzzled, contains an artificial sweetener called aspartame?
Aspartame is a chemical that is used as an artificial sweetener (more on this in a sec')... Now here's a real kicker of a question you need to ask yourself -
Did you know that there is no evidence to suggest that using artificial sweeteners like aspartame helps anyone lose weight?
In fact, there's compelling evidence that the use of aspartame and artificial sweeteners contribute to weight gain. Hello!!!
A 10 year study by researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio showed that those who drank two or more diet sodas a day had a 500% greater increase in waist size!
Now something to seriously think about is this - Your waist line is a powerful indicator of a build-up of visceral fat, a dangerous type of fat around your internal organs that is strongly linked with type 2 diabetes and heart disease. I believe your waistline is a much better indicator of heart risks than BMI (body mass index).
So do you think a diet soft drink is really worth drinking if it actually increases your waistline?
And to add insult to injury, there are compelling studies that it's very detrimental to your health too.
Even if you are a skeptic, did you know the approval of the artificial sweetener aspartame (E951) is the most contested in FDA history? Why is this?
As he stared at his empty can he just finished guzzling, I thought I'd pitch him one more question just to make him feel extra special!
If you are genuinely trying to improve your health, aren't you better off avoiding diet soft drinks and aspartame - especially if safety concerns exist?
After grilling my mate with questions, I went on to explain a little more about artificial sweeteners and aspartame.
SO WHATS IS ASPARTAME ANYWAY?
Simply put, aspartame is a chemical substance that is approximately 200 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar) and contains very few calories when used. It's now used in over 6000 products with many being in 'diet' food and beverages, from weight loss powders to chewing gum.
There are other artificial sweeteners on the market along with aspartame (NutraSweet) - sucralose (Splenda), neotame (made with aspartame), saccaharine (Sweet-n-Low), acesulfame-K (Sunnette) to name a few. Even though aspartame is probably the most commonly used, the others are worth noting and avoiding. I certainly do!
Being low calorie, this makes it very attractive for manufactures when profit above everything else is a priority. And just like sugar it's everywhere!
I've been working in the health industry for a long time and along with many products, I seriously struggled to find a protein supplement that didn't contain some form of artificial sweetener and flavoring.
I don't really hold much confidence in the chemical substances used in food and beverages that are accidentally discovered in a laboratory.
On aspartames discovery back in 1965 -
'... a chemist working for G.D. Searle & Company. Schlatter had synthesized aspartame in the course of producing an anti ulcer drug candidate. He accidentally discovered its sweet taste when he licked his finger, which had become contaminated with aspartame, to lift up a piece of paper.' - Wikipedia
On sucraloses discovery back in 1976 -
OK. Are you sitting down for this next one?
'... the researchers who developed sucralose, also known as Splenda, originally started out in an attempt to create an insecticide. (Yes, you read that right.) An assistant who was asked to test the compound mistakenly thought he was being asked to taste it... ' -Primal Body, Primal Mind
'... While researching ways to use sucrose as a chemical intermediate in non-traditional areas, Phadnis was told to test a chlorinated sugar compound. Phadnis thought that Hough asked him to taste it, so he did. He found the compound to be exceptionally sweet... ' - Wikipedia
Whether you believe the above quotes or not, I think it would be hard to hold any regard for these substances and if they are likely to be at all healthy to consume.
ARE THERE ANY SIDE EFFECTS OF ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS?
Good question! Type the above the sentence into Google and see what comes up... It's quite incredible! There's a big list!
Studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can reduce the amount of good bacteria in the intestines by up to 50%!
This is not a good thing! A healthy gut is essential for overall health, well being and weight management. I wrote on the importance of a healthy gut called: Turn that frown upside down and lose weight in the process.
All artificial sweeteners have been implicated in cancer too. As far as I'm concerned, if they are not a natural substance that occurs in nature, avoid them!
The thing that really gets to me is the marketing of these products. The belief is created that if you are to consume these products through artificially sweetened food and beverages, you are helping weight loss/management. If you believe this then you have been misled.
And sadly switching to your 'normal' sodas (I use that term loosely) and concentrated juices isn't a great option either as they are loaded with sugar. The Sydney Morning Herald released this article recently about children's soft drinks related to disease. What is the world coming to!
An entirely safe sugar substitute to use is Stevia (taken from a leaf), and has no caloric or carbohydrate value. Stevia has been used by primitive South American cultures for centuries. Just make sure you stick to pure Stevia.
And as for diet sodas? If you care about your health avoid them! You can't beat good old-fashioned H2O. If you need to sweeten it up try squeezing a lemon.
There are also some great coconut waters available at the moment, just make sure they are 100% coconut water and don't have any added sugar.