My War on Diet Soda

I hate diet soda.

Longtime readers know I've railed against diet sodas for years, namely because of the dangerous artificial sweeteners they use.

Diet soda contributes to everything from diabetes to dementia thanks to the inflammation caused by these fake sweeteners.

But about one in five Americans drinks diet soda every day. That's despite a plummet in diet soda sales that hit a 30-year low in 2015. Coca-Cola responded by "reformulating" its Coke Zero product... and brought sales back up.

It's just a show. Don't let the ads fool you. Diet soda is still an unhealthy habit. Having one or two occasionally is fine, but chugging a few every day is extremely dangerous.

That's why, if you or someone you know still indulges in a diet soda habit, I want you to pay attention to two new studies about these dangers...

First, an Israeli study showed that artificial sugars damage our gut bacteria. The researchers looked at different sweeteners, including…

  • Acesulfame potassium-K (Sunett and Sweet One) 
  • Advantame (added to food in manufacturing)
  • Aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal) 
  • Neotame (added to food in manufacturing)
  • Saccharin (Sweet'N Low and Sugar Twin) 
  • Sucralose (Splenda)

The researchers discovered that feeding these fake sugars to bacteria found in our guts leads to toxic results. The surprising part was that even low concentrations – much lower than levels previously studied – caused this toxic result. In other words, no amount of artificial sweetener is safe.

The reason this study is so important is because it demonstrates even a single can of Diet Coke can alter your gut bacteria.

That's a problem because these bacteria do more than digest our food. They control our moods, regulate our blood sugar levels, and even control our immune systems. Our gut bacteria also break carbohydrates into short-chain fatty acids. These acids regulate hunger and fight inflammation. So protecting our gut bugs helps keep our whole body functioning well.

The second study comes from Australia and also involves our gut bacteria. Researchers from the University of Adelaide and Adelaide Medical School presented new findings at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes' annual meeting.

They basically found a similar result – feeding low-calorie sweeteners to gut bacteria damaged the bugs. However, they took it one step further.

Their results tie it directly to diabetes. Although the study was small, it did involve human subjects. The test group consumed an artificial sweetener mix that equaled about 1.5 liters of diet soda a day. That's about 50 fluid ounces, or two and a half bottles of diet soda a day. They continued for two weeks.

Those who consumed the sweetener mix had more "bad," or opportunistic, bacteria in their guts at the end of the study. They also had fewer healthy bacteria strains in their guts. One strain noticeably lacking was Butyrivibriobacteria. Now, these bacteria form a short-chain fatty acid called butyrate. Butyrate, we know, stimulates the intestine to make something called glucagon-like peptide-1, or GLP-1. GLP-1 has an incredibly important function – to regulate our blood sugar levels by controlling the release of insulin.

Both studies add to our growing knowledge that no artificial sweeteners are safe. So always check anything labeled "diet," "low-calorie," or "zero-calorie," and look for these sweeteners. Avoid them as much as you can.

As we've said before, the only sugar substitute we're interested in is stevia. It's a natural, plant-based sweetener. It's in brand-name sweeteners Truvia and Pure Via.

A study from the University of Florida points out that stevia helps reduce blood-sugar spikes after eating. It also increases the body's sensitivity to insulin, meaning you can better control the breakdown of sugar in your body.

But we don't wholeheartedly recommend stevia...

The problem with stevia is that some research suggests it lowers your blood pressure. If you're already on blood-pressure-lowering medication, this means your blood pressure could fall to dangerous levels.

I've said it before, but I don't mind repeating myself: If you've got a sweet tooth, stick to fruit. The fiber in the fruit helps to slow the absorption of sugar... And you'll get all the health benefits of fruits, too.

Personally, I like to satisfy my sweet tooth by using raw honey as a sweetener.

A good way to satisfy a sweet craving: mix honey in with some plain yogurt or enjoy it with fruit. Yogurt contains healthy probiotics that keep our gut bacteria healthy.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
October 11, 2018