Because they contain chemicals that alter the brain, science has established that sugar-free diet sodas actually increase appetite.
When diet beverages were first introduced into the soda drinks industry back in the early 50s, their rise in popularity picked up a momentum as did their perceived and alleged health benefits.
However, despite their branding as diet or sugar-free sodas, experts say the beverages actually contain ingredients that do necessarily not reflect the appealing labels.
Resting on the back side of most sugar-free sodas in the slightest of fonts, an ingredient called aspartame floats. Aspartame is an artificial, non-saccharide sweetener that is 200 times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose) and is frequently used in foods and beverages in place of sugar.
The chemical is found in thousands of food and beverage products, including Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, sugar-free gum, candy, condiments and vitamins.
Aspartame is a non-nutritive sweetener, which means after its consumption the brain will still crave the sweetness and the calories elsewhere, experts point out.
The most widely used sugar substitute in the world, aspartame, can be found in countless products that are low in sugar, sugar-free, or labeled “diet.”
However, the scientific data connects aspartame to disorders associated with obesity, including diabetes, metabolic disturbances, and weight gain, increased hunger, and diabetes.
Artificial sweeteners like aspartame and saccharin fool our brains into thinking individuals cannot regulate how much energy we consume, research finds, thus pointing to more food consumption.
A Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine review found that “preload experiments generally have found that sweet taste, whether delivered by sugar or artificial sweeteners, enhanced human appetite.”
“Inconsistent coupling between sweet taste and caloric content can lead to compensatory overeating and positive energy balance,” the Yale research added. In addition, according to the same article, “artificial sweeteners, precisely because they are sweet, encourage sugar craving and sugar dependence.”
The San Antonio Heart Study “observed a classic, positive dose-response relationship between AS [artificially sweetened] beverage consumption and long-term weight gain.” Furthermore, it found that consuming more than 21 artificially sweetened beverages per week – compared to those who consumed none, “was associated with almost-doubled risk” of overweight or obesity.”
Meanwhile, a 2015 study of older adults in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found “in a striking dose-response relationship,” that “increasing DSI [diet soda intake] was associated with escalating abdominal obesity.”
The legality of marketing aspartame-containing items as “diet” or weight reduction aids is a concern given the data connecting aspartame to weight gain and problems linked to obesity. Scientists have stated that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval should be reviewed because it was based on questionable facts.
In 2015, a nonprofit investigative group, USRTK, filed a petition with the FDA and Federal Trade Commission requesting that they look into the marketing and advertising strategies used by “diet” products that include a substance associated to weight gain.
Research has also pointed out its negative impact on the gut and brain due to its linkeage to behavioural and cognitive problems, including learning problems, headache, seizure, migraines, irritable moods, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
However, the listed consequences may occur as a result of over-zealous consumption, the research said. “Aspartame consumption needs to be approached with caution due to the possible effects on neurobehavioral health.”
More than two servings of artificially sweetened soda per day “is associated with a 2-fold increased odds for kidney function decline in women,” according to a 2011 study in the Clinical Journal of American Society of Nephrology.
Other research has found that numerous artificially sweetened beverages could raise the risk of premature birth.
According to a 2010 cohort study of 59,334 Danish pregnant women published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, artificially sweetened carbonated and non-carbonated soft drink consumption was linked to a higher risk of premature delivery.
The study concluded, “daily intake of artificially sweetened soft drinks may increase the risk of preterm delivery.”
Preterm birth rates were 38 percent higher in pregnant women who consumed at least one serving of artificially sweetened soda daily compared to those who drank no diet soda at all.
Nearly 80% more preterm births occurred among women who drank at least four diet drinks per day. Women who were overweight and normal weight both shared the same association.
However, Dr. Thorhallur I. Halldorsson of the Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen told Reuters, “what we are seeing warrants further attention” and should not necessarily cause concern for soft drink consumers who are expecting.