If you believe that drinking diet soda is a “healthier” alternative to regular sodas or that it will help you control your weight while still indulging in that type of beverage, think again. You may be surprised to learn that research has repeatedly shown that artificially sweetened no- or low-calorie drinks (and other “diet” foods) actually tend to stimulate your appetite, increase cravings for carbs, and stimulate fat storage and weight gain! There are also no added health benefits, as diet soda drinkers suffer the same exact health problems as those who opt for regular soda, such as excessive weight gain, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke. So before you reach for that yellow (Splenda/sucralose), blue (Equal/aspartame) or pink (SweetNLow/saccharin) packet, read on to decide if the side effects are worth the perceived benefits.
A major factor that plays into the above-mentioned health issues is that artificial sweeteners basically trick your body into thinking that it’s going to receive sugar, but when the sugar doesn’t arrive, your body signals that it needs more, which results in carb cravings. Most people give in to such signals and end up overeating on other foods and snacks. In 2005, data gathered from the 25-year long San Antonio Heart Study showed that drinking diet soft drinks increased the likelihood of serious weight gain – far more so than regular soda.8 According to Sharon Fowler, M.P.H: “On average, for each diet soft drink our participants drank per day, they were 65 percent more likely to become overweight during the next seven to eight years, and 41 percent more likely to become obese.”
Artificial sweeteners tend to trigger enhanced activity within your brain's pleasure centers, yet at the same time provide less actual satisfaction. This separation of the taste of sweetness from caloric content means that when you consume artificial sweeteners, your brain actually craves more of it because your body receives no satisfaction on a cellular level by the sugar imposter. This can actually contribute to not only overeating and weight gain, but also an addiction to artificial sweeteners, along with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke—even if your weight is normal.
They also produce a variety of metabolic dysfunctions that promote fat storage and weight gain, and many studies have directly associated artificial sweeteners with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Some studies have even shown that artificial sweeteners such as aspartame actually worsen insulin sensitivity to a greater degree than sugar. Other mechanisms of harm have also been revealed. In recent years, we've learned that gut microbes play a significant role in human health. Certain gut microbes have been linked to obesity, for example, and recent research shows that artificial sweeteners raise your risk of obesity and diabetes by disrupting your intestinal microflora.
Other research has actually shown a direct link between artificial sweetener consumption and diabetes. Specifically, they found that artificial sweeteners cause decreased function in pathways associated with the transport of sugar in your body. Glucose intolerance is a well-known precursor to type 2 diabetes, but it also plays a role in obesity, because the excess sugar in your blood ends up being stored in your fat cells. This even occurred in otherwise healthy individuals.
Researchers have demonstrated that aspartame worsens insulin sensitivity to a greater degree than sugar. This is a serious blow for diabetics who followed the recommendation to switch to diet sodas to manage their condition. It's worth noting that the study in question used a dosage of aspartame that approximates the ADI for aspartame in the US (approx. 50 mg/kg body weight), and not only was aspartame found to decrease insulin sensitivity compared to controls, it also wrought havoc on brain function!
Besides decimating the claim that diet soda is a useful diet aid, studies have also linked diet sodas and artificial sweeteners to a number of other, more serious health hazards, including increased risk of stroke and cancer. There are in fact hundreds of published studies demonstrating the harmful effects of aspartame... Yet the industry keeps repeating the mantra that "no harmful effects have ever been proven." Doctors and scientists will tell you otherwise.
The evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners have likely played a role in actually worsening the obesity and diabetes epidemics since their emergence in our food supply. And considering their many routes of harm, including disrupting your gut flora, brain function and blood sugar management, we strongly recommend avoiding artificial sweeteners altogether, and to read food labels to make sure you're not inadvertently consuming them. They're added to some 6,000 different beverages, snacks, and food products, so there's no telling where they might be hiding!