Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
26 Jan

The Not So Definitive Guide to Diet Soda

Before I begin, I want to make something clear: this is not your standard definitive guide to whatever. I’d like to be able to issue a proclamation regarding diet soda that stands the test of time immemorial, but I cannot. Research is still in its infancy, and exactly what diet soda does to those who drink it – if anything – is incredibly confusing. The one thing I can say with any certainty is that, while it’s unfair to say it will kill you or give your unborn child prenatal tumors or make you impossibly obese, you’re probably better off without diet soda. It tastes weird, the list of unpronounceable ingredients is too long for my comfort level, and I’ve seen one too many unsuccessful dieters that seem to live on the stuff.

There are two things to consider when making any conclusions about diet soda’s place in a healthy diet. Do the ingredients used in diet soda pose a threat to your short-term or long-term (or that of your offspring’s) health? Is it a kind of sugary methadone, impeding healthy eating by making it harder to kick the desire for sweet things in your mouth because, well, you’re constantly putting things in your mouth that mimic sugar? Let’s dig in.

First, the ingredients. What goes into a can of your average diet soda?

Carbonated water, some sort of food coloring, and preservatives like potassium benzoate are all innocuous enough. Nothing to worry about there. You won’t see Mercola issuing dire warnings about Caramel Color No. 76 anytime soon. It’s the other stuff that interests (or worries) us: artificial sweeteners and (to a lesser extent) phosphoric acid. Let’s take a look at the two major sweeteners in popular use, aspartame and sucralose. Are they dangerous?

Aspartame gets a bad rap. High dose rat studies implicate it as a carcinogen, but in exceedingly large amounts. A can of diet soda a day probably won’t give you cancer. Would I avoid it as a pregnant mother? Yes. Would I be wary of drinking several cans a day? Yes. The basic takeaway is that while the clinical evidence of immediate danger upon normal ingestion of aspartame is lacking, inconclusive, or unclear, the vast amount of anecdotal evidence from people linking aspartame to headaches, migraines, panic attacks, and other maladies gives me great pause. I mean, the stuff tastes horrible, and that’s enough for me, but some people appear to have real health issues with aspartame. Not everyone, obviously, but some do. If aspartame appears to give you trouble, don’t let PubMed convince you that it’s harmless. It may very well be safe in the amounts we typically consume in the majority of people, but you can’t ignore your own experiences.

Also known as Splenda, sucralose is a popular sweetener that’s often called “natural” because it’s the product of selective sucrose chlorination. It’s 3.3 times sweeter than aspartame and 600 times sweeter than sucrose. It seems to have less of a disgusting aftertaste than aspartame (it’s all foul to me, though). Like aspartame, most of the studies reporting negative effects used insanely high doses of sucralose. I’m talking doses in the area of thousands of Splenda packets a day for months on end. I’m no fan, but I don’t think normal consumption of the stuff will kill you. There was a study that found normal doses (between 1.1 and 11.1 mg/kg per day; recommended maximum daily dosage is 5 mg/kg) of sucralose negatively impacted the gut flora in rats and lead to weight gain, although a later review called the study’s results into question. I’ll pass, but thanks, expert panel. There’s also the fact that sucralose is usually combined with something called acesulfame-K (potassium), another sweetener that many researchers think needs more toxicity tests. My take? Studies showing negative effects may be overstated or misguided, but why take the risk for that weird chemical aftertaste? Just avoid the stuff to be on the safe side.

And then there’s phosphoric acid. Here’s how the story supposedly goes: phosphoric acid, which soda makers use in place of pricier citric acid, leaches calcium from your bones and reduces bone mineral density. Is it true? Well, it’s become pretty clear that foods containing dietary phosphorus – like meat, dairy, and other “evil” foods – strengthen bones, rather than leach from them. But phosphorus isn’t exactly the same as phosphoric acid, which epidemiological studies have connected with loss of bone mineral density and osteoporosis. One in particular found that only colas (both diet and regular) were strongly associated with loss of bone mineral density. What do colas have that other diet sodas largely do not? Caffeine plus phosphoric acid. A more recent controlled trial found that only fizzy drinks containing caffeine resulted in increased calcium excretion; phosphoric acid content exerted no effect, either alone or in concert with caffeine. I don’t think we can implicate phosphoric acid just yet.

Okay, but remember: we’ve got to be careful when analyzing a food’s worth by singling out one of its constituent parts for good or for bad (although diet soda is by all definitions not food, it is a consumable whose stated purpose is to help dieters lose weight by avoiding sugar). Let’s judge diet soda on that. It may be technically safe to consume, but does it do its “job”? Does it help us lose weight by replacing our sugar intake with non-caloric sweetener intake and reducing cravings?

By most accounts, no. If you look at the literature, diet soda has repeatedly been shown to correlate with weight gain and increased incidence of metabolic syndrome:

One study found evidence of a linear dose-response; the more diet soda people drank, the more likely they were to be overweight or obese. As Sharon Fowler, the author of the study, puts it, “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.”

Another study, which I covered a couple years ago, analyzed the diets of more than 9,500 men and women between the ages of 45 and 64 and found that drinking diet soda was associated with a 34% higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome – the perfect storm of high triglycerides, belly fat, insulin resistance, and obesity that’s so popular nowadays. This was an even stronger association than the one between the “high-meat, high-fat” Western diet and metabolic syndrome.

Authors of both studies speculate that diet soda drinking just extends the life of sugar cravings, rather than eliminating it. In this scenario, diet soda doesn’t regulate the desire for sugar; it increases it, and diet soda drinkers are simply replacing those empty calories with real sugar. This makes sense, and I think it’s part of it, but a couple other studies suggest that something else is going on entirely independent of caloric intake:

The dietary habits and weights of a homogenous group of middle aged women were tracked for a year. Regardless of initial weight status and inexplicable by “food consumption patterns,” users of diet soda were more likely than nonusers to gain weight. They didn’t eat markedly different from non-soda drinkers and yet they got fatter. It continues…

A more recent study broke rats up into two groups. The first received ad libitum oral doses of water sweetened with the maximum Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of saccharin, aspartame, cyclamate, and acesulfame-K (the same formulae used in commercial sweeteners), while the second group received plain water. Both were given ad libitum access to standard rat chow (which usually resembles the SAD: a disgusting mix of vegetable oils and sucrose). While caloric intake did not change between groups, the rats given non-caloric sweeteners experienced greater increases in bodyweight. The rats apparently weren’t driven to eat more because of confused satiety signals, and yet they still gained more weight. What gives?

Are diet soda drinkers eating more actual sweets to make up for the missing calories? Are their satiety signal hormones being altered by some chemical additive? Or is something in the diet soda actually causing weight gain independent of caloric intake?

We simply don’t know. We do know, however, that our bodies respond to everything they encounter. You lift a weight, you send a message to your body (build more muscle, make bones denser, establish neural pathways for movement!). You put food in your mouth, that elicits a response, even before the food hits your gut, as with the carbohydrate mouth rinse that increases athletic performance. It may be that introducing artificial sweeteners directly to your gut (bypassing the tongue) doesn’t affect subjective satiety or satiety hormones, but that’s not how we drink diet sodas. We taste them. With our tongues. And there is a decent amount of (mixed) evidence that certain artificial sweeteners in certain situations in certain individuals can actually elicit hormonal responses from taste alone, leading to hunger that isn’t really there and perhaps even insulin to handle dietary glucose that was never actually eaten. The details of any effect artificial sweeteners have on our hunger hormones are still being teased out, and the subject demands a dedicated post sometime in the future – so stay tuned for that.

In the end, diet sodas contain potentially harmful chemical additives and phosphoric acid that may or may not leach minerals. The majority of people who drink them to lose weight are unsuccessful, and most epidemiological evidence and some clinical evidence has linked diet soda intake to increased obesity, even irrespective of caloric intake. It may be that tasting sweet stuff without a corresponding caloric dose is throwing off our satiety signals and messing with our normal hormonal response to food, or perhaps relying on fake sugar just makes it harder to give up the real stuff.

Of course, whether they have a place in your diet is up to you. Maybe you’ll buck the trend and lose more weight and experience greater relief from sugar cravings with diet soda. Maybe you have one every few days and no more. If you’re a dedicated diet soda addict, maybe experiment with slowly eliminating it from your diet. Drink a bit less than usual and see how you feel. Try to save your 80/20 allowance for something a bit more fun, like maybe a high quality full-fat ice cream or a hunk of super dark chocolate (which actually has some nutritional merit, like good dairy fat). I’m gonna say that ideally you ditch them altogether, mostly because they seem to reinforce bad habits in most people and because the long term effects aren’t fully known.

Whatever you do, don’t start a diet soda habit after reading this post!

Comments? Concerns? Give me your diet soda stories. I want to hear about the aspartame headaches, the effect Splenda has on your satiety, and anything you can think of. Don’t hold back!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I don’t know if I’d call potassium benzoate innocuous:

    Chris wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • Agreed, I have stopped drinking diet sodas, not because of the reasons stated above, but because Sodium and Potassium Benzoate in the presence of vitamin C(ascorbic acid) and sunlight can produce benzene, a known carcinogen.

      Nick wrote on January 27th, 2011
  2. A few years ago I turned around and realized I drank nothing but Mt Dew and Diet Dew. No water. I was at 8-12 cans a day. Stomach aches every morning. It nearly destroyed my teeth, and had me around 220lbs and growing. Now, if I can’t make it in my kitchen with 2 or 3 ingredients that I know the origin of, or walk out to the barn and squeeze it fresh… I don’t drink it. Thank You Mark for posting this. It helps me keep on the straight and narrow path!

    Poppabear wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • So, In a nutshell… I feel so much better after dropping all soda from my diet. Stomach aches gone, no sugar crashes etc. Diet soda or not, if you can drop all of it from your diet, you will be better off in the long run.

      Poppabear wrote on January 26th, 2011
      • good work Poppabear –
        a tip perhaps..
        We live in the high desert and from april to october, having a cool drink is an almost hourly thing as the humidity here can hover at 5-10% – along with sunny days – for weeks on end. We found that a number of the herbal teas (bigelow raspberry is a good one) just tossed in the cold water jug and put back in the fridge for a couple hours (or more) steeps a very satisfying taste addition to just plain water(kinda sweet too) with no calories and not other nasty stuff – we go though a couple gallons a day (3 of us) and stave-off dehydration.

        DaiaRavi wrote on January 26th, 2011
        • Thanks DaiaRavi, GREAT IDEA! I didn’t think of that I only ever drink hot herbal teas. Its been getting quite hot here in Australia and water just doesn’t do it for me looks like I’ll be filling our water jugs with herbal tea!
          Thanks again for the idea.

          Tamin wrote on January 26th, 2011
        • I have a LONG standing addiction to Diet Coke. I’ve been trying to cut back, but it’s not going well.

          Anyway, I do absolutely love Sportea. If you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend it.

          Now I need to stop the DC and go back to Sportea instead. (I’m not a shill either)

          John (aka Wish I Were Riding) wrote on February 4th, 2011
        • I like the herbal tea idea! I loved the taste of diet coke, but I found that carbonated water with a splash of lemon (Trader Joes has lovely large Italian bottles for less than $1 with only water and lemon!) does the trick. And its MUCH better for me. You can also buy cans of carbonated water with a splash of coconut water. It’s essentially calorie-free and not sweet, but with the carbonation and splash of flavor, you really don’t miss the sweet taste!

          Raqui wrote on January 18th, 2012
      • Do you feel you lost weight as a result of stopping the diet Dew> A lot?

        Mose wrote on May 17th, 2012
    • Poppabear, i have to agree with you, nothing in this world will ever replace the need for water, i make it a habit of reading every label of just about anything i purchase, the moment i have to hesitate to pronounce any world, that product is sentenced to be left behind.
      I would note that the body will sacrifice calcium, mostly from teeth and bones to buffer the action of the acidity of phosphorous, leading to sudden tooth breaks and skeletal degeneration.
      85 % of all complaints registered with the FDA are of products containing aspartame, and aspartame has a definite nasty effect on your health, i avoid it as much as possible, however one can of soda once in a while will not kill you, i don’t drink any.
      For those not convinced i saw a while ago a documentary, that really put the dangers of this chemicals in perspective, watch “sweet misery” .


      Ruben wrote on January 26th, 2011
  3. Most artificial sweeteners I have encountered give me an irregular heartbeat at any significant level…which seems to be “about the amount it takes to sweeten a diet soda.”

    By ‘irregular heartbeat’ I don’t mean ‘my heart felt kind of racy for a minute’. I mean: “a condition which has led to me being taken to an ER and gets judged ‘probably not dangerous, go see your PCP’ before my PCP goes “somebody slipped you a diet coke again, didn’t they?”

    Thankfully my doctors haven’t been insane about wanting to put me through a ton of tests and then diagnose me with something I don’t have! (though my reaction to aspartame, at least, is very well documented) My first incident of it occurred when I was twelve (when my mom decided that Crystal Light was the Solution to my full-sugar-Kool Aid habit). I am now thirty, so that’s quite a track record.

    It’s hit the point where I have to keep telling people “no, really, it’s okay” when they suggest I try their New Artifical Sweetener of Choice in a soft drink. It’s like, look: aspertame certainly makes me sick at any high dose (whatever is probably in my toothpaste or whatever is fine, a single piece of sugarless gum probably won’t make me sick, but a diet coke WILL) so WHY THE HECK would I want to “experiment” with other ones?… So I can go “Maybe this one will only make my heart beat a *little* weird?…

    It’s a heck of a lot easier to just not drink the soft drink.

    My reaction seems to be pretty atypical–I’ve heard artificial sweetener horror stories but never another like mine that end in being hooked up to one of those little heart rate machines and stared at by a doctor and four interns for twenty minutes. So I’m reluctant to extrapolate from that that “everybody reacts badly to artificial sweeteners.” I certainly do, though.

    ahk wrote on January 26th, 2011
  4. I was drinking a lot of soda, and then I read a horrible research report on what phosphoric acid does to your bones and teeth and i stopped, cold turkey, immediately. (best way to stop bad habits according to me, the 80/20 principle does not work for addictions like smoking, or soda, or gum for me). It definitely reduced my cravings. The key is to get unaccustomed to the sugar TASTE. Sweeteners just make you more and more accustomed to the sweetness and you crave more of it.

    Rainbow wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • That’s so true. Getting away from eating/drinking sweets is the goal. I never drank diet soda but I did chew sugar free gum. I recently lost 20 lbs much easier and quicker without chewing gum than the last time I tried while still chewing the gum.

      Shari wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • And that is exactly that, getting away from thinking a good taste is a sugar based taste. I am on week three of trying to stay on the PB, but yesterday and the day before I sinned. My wife had Pepsi-Max in the house so I gave it a shot, yuck did not enjoy it. Yesterday, she had Diet-Pepsi, again yuck… three weeks and my taste buds are adapting. I have been noticing the Almonds and Walnuts I have been eating have a greater amount of flavor then I ever remember. It is coming slow, but surely! Now I just gotta keep up with the exercise requirements… ugh! LOL.

      Tesen wrote on January 27th, 2011
    • I haven’t ever been a major soda drinker, but with eating out as often as I have in the past, it’s the one beverage I get, usually coke or pepsi (no diet, bleh…the stuff is nasty), or the occasional iced tea. I also read several years back about phosphoric acid and how it leaches calcium from the bones. That certainly gives one pause and I reduced my consumption of it, and upped my intake of teas. While I am still working on incorporating all the principles of the primal lifestyle, I have had a soda here and there this month, specifically when I’ve given in to the temptations of fast food or if I have mexican food (for some reason a soda is just awesome with mexican food). I’ve been lucky that it hasn’t sent me down the path of binge eating this month as falling off the band wagon has been known to do to me in the past. Like you, the 20% rule wouldn’t help me in the long run, because I’ll be likely to continually crave those nasty foods and further inhibit my health goals in the process. I want to give myself at least a month of 100% primal before I slip into once a week, or once every two weeks, or once a month meals that are less than primal ideal. I’ve been very proud of myself this month as it’s definitely been a mile stone for me in reducing the frequency in which I eat out. I’ve also seen that by reducing my sugar intake, that I’m now able to enjoy my teas without some kind of sweetner, and that is something I never thought I’d be able to do! It makes me wonder what other bad habitual things might change that I’ve said ‘never’ to.

      I have to also mention here, since it applies to the post, though I think I may have mentioned it in another post awhile back that I once witnessed a young pregnant woman dump about 15 packets of SweetN’Low in her coffee at Starbucks! This was maybe a year or so ago. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and wouldn’t even want to imagine what that would taste like! It’s not coffee anymore at that point! bleh!! I was waiting for her to move so I could have access to the napkins, and straws, and the one half a splenda packet I wanted to put in my tea. I wish I would have said something, but I didn’t know enough about the effects of artificial sweetners on the unborn to give her good enough reason to not use it. I was also strangely curious to find out just how many she’d use and wondered how often she drank her beverages like that. *shutter*

      Dana wrote on January 28th, 2011
  5. Hi Mark –

    I’m one of those people that has a diet soda every few days – averaging about 3 cans per week (sometimes 6 per week; sometimes none). Coke Zero is my drink of choice.

    I am not a person who is crippled with intense sugar cravings that I’m trying to stave off with my Zero. I drink it when I want something refreshing, cold and bubbly to sip on when I’m on the couch relaxing after a long day. Since it has 0 calories and no sugar, I feel like it’s a better choice than, say, drinking a big glass or two of orange juice which – although delicious and nutritious – has more calories than I think I should be consuming at 9:00 at night when I’ve already wrapped up my calorie consumption for the day. It’s kind of backwards thinking, I suppose, that Coke Zero is the *healthy* choice I’m making for my calorie/sugar intake over OJ, but there it is.

    I drink tons of water all day long, and sometimes I just don’t want any more water! I want an enjoyable beverage with some FLAVOUR – but preferably not at the expense of botching my daily calorie intake. Maybe that winds up being some Crystal Light powder in a bottle of water, a can of Coke Zero or a squeeze of lemon in my Gerolsteiner. The beverage of choice varies, but it’s always about enjoying a drink without obsessing about what’s in it or not in it. I guess I turn a blind eye to the chemicals… Ha?

    Because my “habit” is pretty recreational, I can’t say I’ve noticed weight gain related to it. I think there are some interesting theories, though – especially this one: “…leading to hunger that isn’t really there and perhaps even insulin to handle dietary glucose that was never actually eaten.” I have sometimes wondered if “faking out” my body by drinking faux sugary beverages might be sending my insulin balance out of whack. Maybe I’ll try a 30-day diet beverage cleanse and see what happens. (I’ll just switch to wine instead. *smile*)

    Erin wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • I sometimes feel exactly the way you do. I don’t drink diet soda though because I just don’t like the taste. When I feel like I need something with flavor, I drink some ice tea with a bit of stevia, iced herbal tea, homemade kombucha tea (it’s fizzy sometimes), water kefir (it’s fizzy) or ice water with some fruit slices in it (its amazing what just a bit of the fruit flavor does to glass of water!). Some of those have a little bit of carbs but they also have all kinds of health benefits, too. Give some of them a try during your 30-day trial!

      Jen wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • I didn’t know there are people out there that still count calories.

      If a food/beverage is nutritionally high your body uses up calories to process the nutrition.

      It’s the ratio of calories/nutrition that’s important. If your body is nutritionally full you won’t even crave your ZERO drink in the first place.

      Suvetar wrote on March 27th, 2011
    • I too have some crystal lite (1 or 2 glasses a day) but it started to taste really funny and strong after I had strep throat this fall and after taking antibiotcs. While i was sick i could only handle orange juice cut with sparkling water. I hesitate to keep that up but i tried making the crystal lite 2 quart pitcher and then add about 1/2 cup orange juice and the taste is transformed. Really yummy nd takes away the artificial taste. I like the tea nd cold water idea above to.

      janet wrote on January 29th, 2012
  6. A few years ago we gave up all sodas made with aspartame – for obvious reasons. 20% covers my family for the ‘regular’ ones they might have while out. ~6 months ago, I had to stop drinking the sodas w/ splenda due to some UT/kidney symptoms I experienced (plus it also made my family’s urine smell bad/strong – even my exclusively-nursing son!). It’s also a pretty expensive habit. I will add stevia to mineral water or make my own lemonade, etc. or have hot or cold tea. I, and often my family, will drink unsweet tea or plain water when eating out. Not to say I don’t still sometimes miss the sodas, but the pain I went through is still fresh in my mind and I’m more than happy to avoid that happening again.

    Melissa Fritcher wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • I too experienced UT/Kidney problems tha manifested in the form of infections that usesless and countless antibiotics did not remedy. Once I started keeping a journal of what I ate AND drank the culprit became clear after a week. I’ll never go back. I use stevia in my coffee and on occasion sweeten a club sode with stevia and add some lime (and a shot a vodka) I don’t feel deprived I like water.

      cors1wfe wrote on January 26th, 2011
  7. Ever since my husband and I went Primal in December, we have cut out soda entirely; both the regular and the diet. I have had one diet coke in the past 2 months and it lasted me 3 meals.

    I do however enjoy calcium carbonated water on occasion. Is that also as bad—dietetically—as diet/reg sodas?

    Blue Buddha wrote on January 26th, 2011
  8. I kicked the diet soda habit long before I decided to try the primal life. I was one of those people who bought a diet soda and a candy bar… you know the zero calorie drink justified the 350 calorie candy bar.

    A lot of prepared foods including breakfast cerals marketed to children also contain artificial sweeteners. That junk is everywhere, fruit yogurts, granola bars, etc.

    I have only joined the primal movement a couple of weeks ago, but eating only foods I prepare myself, down to the home made vinaigrette, has certainly made a huge difference in how I feel already. 8 pounds down, 12-15 to go!

    Maryann wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • Yaay, congratulations on your efforts!

      Primal K@ wrote on January 26th, 2011
      • Thanks! The interesting thing is that I really don’t miss the junk food that much. So, huge results with little effort.
        A friend of a friend clued me in, and I will be forever in their debt!

        Maryann wrote on January 28th, 2011
  9. Why do they put aspartame in gums and sodas that are already sweet/sweetened with cheaper, better tasting products?

    A friend found herself so addicted to diet soda that she was going through several litres a day. First thought in the morning and couldn’t function without it, and GAINING weight. Cut it out cold turkey and actually went through withdrawals.

    I wonder if there addictive properties to aspartame. Known and purposefully used. I can’t count the number of people I know who compulsively eat gum. Weird.

    Michelle Fire Eater wrote on January 26th, 2011
  10. Does it never occur to anyone that the fatter people drink more diet soda because they’re under a lot of pressure to cut calories and that was one of the simplest ways they knew to do it?

    I don’t usually drink mainstream diet soda brands anymore. After switching to coffee for my caffeine intake (I know, I know–kicking the caffeine is next on my agenda), I realized that aspartame *does* give me a slight headache, and worse if I drink too much of it, so I am running out of reasons to bother. But switching to diet sodas was an important step in kicking mainstream soda entirely, which was a big deal for me, because for most of the last twenty years I have had a wicked full-sugar soda habit that (I) just would not quit. Yes, the stuff can function as a sort of methadone drink. But just as methadone isn’t a sure thing for heroin addicts, diet soda’s not a sure thing either. It depends on the person and the situation.

    Now mind you, it isn’t a matter of EITHER drink diet soda OR drink water, and EITHER drink sucralose/aspartame OR avoid diet soda entirely. And this is the story of how, even though I no longer drink 2 liters of Diet Dew a day, I still sometimes drink diet soda. I just drink Zevia or Diet Rite now, because I’ve uncoupled my soda consumption from my caffeine consumption. I actually prefer Zevia, to tell you the truth–it tastes more “real” somehow. That’s the one with stevia and erythritol in it.

    But even with that it’s a treat, not a regular thing. (Zevia’s expensive, and I find that if I have soda around, I keep after it til it’s gone. Can’t do that, it’d break the bank.) I’m much better about drinking water now.

    The other reason I had quit Diet Dew is it’s made with brominated vegetable oil. I was startled to learn that bromine is in the halogen group on the periodic table, just like iodine is. My TSH is just a hair over 1.0 (anything over 1.0 seems to be associated with more chronic disease) and I had had a weird autoimmune flareup during my last pregnancy and then a bunch of weight gain postpartum. I realized I didn’t need to be offering any more insults to my thyroid, assuming it’s suffered enough already.

    Sucralose doesn’t necessarily bother me though. Ace-K doesn’t either. Actually, when I was still trying to low-carb and drink lots of Diet Dew, I made an interesting discovery–if I drank enough Diet Dew, I didn’t get muscle cramps in ketosis. I guess I was getting enough potassium from the ace-K and the couple of other potassium compounds in the drink. Oh the irony, but these days I’d rather get that from avocados and meat, you know?

    Dana wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • I was thinking the same thing about the diet sodas related to weight: it’s a relationship, it doesn’t show cause.

      I like Zevia ginger root beer. It’s expensive, but sometimes I enjoy something cold and fizzy. I used to love Coke Zero, but it makes my face break out.

      Lori wrote on January 26th, 2011
      • The Fowler & Williams study cited above, with the dose-response relationship was a prospective cohort study. Which means that they measured weight and soda/diet soda consumption at the beginning of the study and then looked at weight gain over a span of several years. I’m not sure why normal weight people who were destined to gain weight (perhaps because of some unmeasured factor X) would be feel pressure to drink more diet soda than normal weight people who were not destined to gain weight.

        jj wrote on January 27th, 2011
        • I could imagine people destined to gain weight feeling more pressure to drink diet sodas as they did so. They see their weight increasing and respond by drinking more diet soda out of a mistaken belief that it will cause them to lose weight when in fact their metabolism and eating habits are to blame. Plausible?

          I’m one who has no issue drinking diet sodas and has not gained any appreciable weight over the years. Despite the fact that studies are inconclusive & no scientific consensus exists, many people have an automatic reaction to the idea of an artificial sweetener despite the fact that they’re all completely different from one another. Even entirely natural sweeteners like Stevia are getting their detractors.

          Personally, I think it’s pretty safe to say that in moderation, diet sodas are pretty benign and if they add satisfaction to your life then what’s the problem?

          Marshall wrote on July 26th, 2011
    • I have enjoyed every comment from you that I have come accross. I look forward to many more.

      andre Chimene wrote on January 30th, 2012
  11. I’m one of those people who eat very clean and my last vice is the diet cola. I drink 4 per day…have tried stopping cold turkey. The stuff is an addiction for me. I will get headaches in the morning if I don’t have 2 cans of Coke zero right away.

    I believe drinking the soda has a lot to do with why I cannot drop my last few pounds.

    I have been stuck at the same weight for years…my age is no help either (52) ..I think if I could kick the diet soda, I’d drop those last 5 pounds.

    Funny thing is, years ago, aspartame used to make me nuts..brought on panic attacks. So I did manage to cut out the aspartame for awhile…that is, until the doctor prescribed Zoloft for my nervousness. No more panic attacks so I started drinking the diet stuff again.

    I need real help to kick the habit…no kidding.

    Annie wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • Annie —

      I have found seltzer water to be a big help, initially flavored and then not flavored. I also added another small cup of coffee around lunch (in addition to my morning cup) to help with any caffeine cravings.

      But the seltzer water hits the need for something carbonated, and I’ve found that helps. Not totally – I still get the odd craving for a Coke Zero, but it goes away.

      Blake wrote on January 26th, 2011
      • I’ve also found club soda to be a big help with beer cravings. It gives you that feeling of ritual — cold and bubbly — without the naughtiness. (Not that I never slip….)

        Rory wrote on January 26th, 2011
      • I’ve also been able to kick the soda habit by switching to carbonated water. I used to be a 3-4 sodas a day; then I switched to the same number of diet sodas per day.

        I thought it was a caffeine addiction so I switched to unsweetened tea, but I still craved sodas like mad.

        I started buying carbonated water with flavors, but the flavors were too fake and gross to me. I started just buying regular carbonated water and adding a squeeze of lime. I no longer crave sweet drinks at all.

        Nick wrote on January 26th, 2011
        • Also, found carbonated water to be the answer to our (esp. hubby) diet soda cravings. We make our own us the soda stream system (

          Rebecca wrote on January 26th, 2011
        • that’s *using* the soda stream system

          Rebecca wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • i went cold turkey on my coffee habit–it was painful but after a week, it was over

      DThalman wrote on January 26th, 2011
  12. After hitting a plateau, I removed all artificial sweeteners from my diet and I started losing again right away. Great post.

    Hank Garner wrote on January 26th, 2011
  13. Mark, is there an insulin response from artificial sweeteners or is the body smart enough to release insulin only if real sugar is consumed?

    Kishore wrote on January 26th, 2011
  14. I never faired well with Aspartame. My reaction was always the same, a sore throat and nausea.

    Best to avoid the stuff altogether, though. It tastes horrible to me and I can never fathom how my friends can throw the cans down their throat regularly.

    Primal K@ wrote on January 26th, 2011
  15. I dropped the diet soda about 3 months after going primal. I will still have some occasionally but I notice once I do the sugar cravings do get worse and 1 Diet Mountain Dew sometimes leads to 2 or even three in a day. I just try to avoid it when possible.

    I have switched to those drop ins you add to water, particularly peach mango green tea. They have the artificial sweetener as well but I add a packet to 50 oz. of water instead of the prescribed 16 oz. My goal is to delete these from the intake soon and just do plain ol’ ice water.

    Matt wrote on January 26th, 2011
  16. “Dr Merrill advises his patients to drink calorie-free ‘diet’ sodas to prevent weight gain and its associated morbitities, such as type 2 diabetes mellitus.”

    yeah keep drinking the Kool-Aid doc!

    Jim Jones wrote on January 26th, 2011
  17. Soda and diet soda are about as healthy as styrofoam is environmentally friendly. I vote to erradicate both from the planet.

    Gorm wrote on January 26th, 2011
  18. I chew artificially sweetened gum fairly often. Trident Freshmint, ooh baby! I wouldn’t call it compulsive, but I do chew it after ~50% of my meals (if I have a pack kickin’ around…which I usually do). NEVER while fasting though – it makes me hungry!

    Other than that its the odd dab of stevia extract in yogurt or coconut cream with berries for dessert. Anyone have any thoughts on stevia? I find on its own it’s pretty nasty, but its great for increasing the natural sweetness of fruits!

    Graham wrote on January 26th, 2011
  19. How about xlitol? I use it when I can on strawberries and coffee. They should use it diet drinks too.

    jack wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • Unfortunately, most xylitol is made with genetically modified corn unless is says otherwise and there are some theories about health problems caused by GMO foods. Not to mention, they keep the sweet cravings alive.

      Katie wrote on January 26th, 2011
  20. I have been drinking diet pop for 20 years. It’s definitely time I quit. I do notice a craving for sugar when I drink to much. I have in the past ran to the grocery and bought ice cream to satisfy my sugar craving. Not good. And whats weird is….I have never been a sweets person. I never craved sugary things like cookies, cake and ice cream. There is something in diet pop that makes me crave sugar. I have been cutting way back in the last 6 months but it’s high time I quit!

    Aaron Curl wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • I agree, drinking soda is addicting. If I drink a Diet Coke today I will want one tomorrow. If I don’t drink a Diet Coke today I won’t want one tomorrow.

      Soda is bizzarly addicting…..

      Brittany wrote on January 26th, 2011
  21. I know for a fact that diet sodas or any type of soda is not healthy because of the way it makes me feel; bloating, headaches, heartburn.
    However, I think there is a correlation with people who drink diet soda and people who eat junk food. Obviousley, people who like to drink soda also like to eat junk which explains why soda drinkers tend to be overweight. But lets not forget all of those “alternate” people who drink energy drinks instead of soda. Energy drinks are just as unhealthy as soda and most people I see downing energy drinks are overweight as well.

    Brittany wrote on January 26th, 2011
  22. I love the bubbles in carbonated drinks and drink diet soda to avoid the calories. I’ve tried a few times to cut them out with no avail. Your post, and the points you make about the various chemicals in diet soda, may be just the kick I need to drop them for good. Thanks 8)

    Ali wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • Have you thought about using seltzer or carbonated mineral water and adding a splash of fruit juice?

      Sonia wrote on January 26th, 2011
      • Adding a splash of fruit juice to carbonated water is no different than adding a splash of Coca Cola to carbonated water.

        rob wrote on January 26th, 2011
        • Yes, but either way it’s not a diet soda.

          Jenny wrote on January 26th, 2011
        • Of course, it’s different. A splash of pomegranate or a twist of lemon, lime or orange, is much better than a chemical splash, especially if one is trying to break an addiction to chemicals.

          Stephanie wrote on January 27th, 2011
      • We love our Soda Stream. Just a little squeeze of lemon or a dash of our homegrown blackcurrant cordial… delicious.

        kem wrote on January 26th, 2011
  23. I eat and drink very clean but I simply adore a diet soda on a very hot day…for a few sips.

    My desire for diet soda has an inverse relationship to the quality of food I eat – the better the food, the lower the desire for diet soda and other junk. And vice versa.

    And I have to say that while I we can’t say for sure if it harms us, it sure can’t do us any good in the long run. So I stay off and let my kids have it a very once in a while so they can hold their heads up with their friends.

    Alison Golden wrote on January 26th, 2011
  24. I drink diet soda like there was no tomorrow, haven’t seen any negative effects at all.

    I stick to the ones that taste good to me, avoid the ones that don’t taste good.

    rob wrote on January 26th, 2011
  25. I’d like to know what Mark and everyone thinks about the new sodas that are sweetened with stevia and erythritol and are free of phosphoric acid, like Zevia and Hansens’s Blue Sky. I have one of these a few times a week and am wondering how unhealthy they are.

    Laurie wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • I’d like to know that too.

      Mike wrote on October 8th, 2015
  26. When I consume Aspartame I end up with sores on my gums. It also makes me feel a bit loopy and occasionally triggers a migraine. Sucralose trips me out because the sweet tastes doesn’t go away. Even 30 minutes after consuming it I still have a sweet aftertaste in my mouth.

    Luckily I was never a big soda drinker. As a kid my parents never kept soda in the house and when we went out to eat I was only allowed one glass of soda. I remember as a teenager going to friends houses and they would have case stacks of soda in their pantries and multiple 2 liter bottles in the fridge. I was shocked and amazed.

    After high school my friends were all huge soda drinkers, 32 oz Big Gulps, then 44 oz, etc. I noticed early on that when I drank soda it didn’t actually quench my thirst. In fact it actually make me even thirstier. I thought to myself, “what’s that point of drinking this stuff” and switched to water and only had the occasional soda as a special treat. Later on I gave it up completely. The only things I drink now are water, coffee (no sweetener), wine, and tea.

    I was a gum addict for many years, but I found it harder and harder to find gum that didn’t have any artificial sweetener in it. Even some gums that didn’t list artificial sweetener on the label give me problems so I had to give it up all together.

    CavePainter wrote on January 26th, 2011
  27. About 13 months ago, I kicked a very nasty diet soda habit (5 or 6 cans a day) cold turkey. It took nine days of headaches to clear the caffeine and chemical withdrawal (whereas caffeine withdrawals I’d had in prior years from regular soda were only about two days long). I’ve never looked back, keep my Nalgene of water close at hand at work, and only recently started drinking the occasional caffeinated tea during the day.

    Once you get that junk out of your system for a couple of weeks, you’re no longer used to the nasty metallic, fake sweetener taste and diet soda is disgusting once again. Keeps you from going back!

    Rory wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • Old post..but wanted to say that it took me 9 days to get over the headache,bad lipids,and overall hung over feeling of getting off diet coke too.. omg I felt like my bones were rubbing each other when I moved and my head was going to explode. But its been 3 weeks today since I cut caffeine and all fake sweeteners (have been real sugar free for 3 years) and I feel awesome. Not nearly as snacky as I was and I’m finally back in ketosis. I still think about coke zero,but then I remember how my body ached for a week and a half and get over it. Congrats on quitting!

      ashley wrote on June 29th, 2012
      • Ha…bad moods..not correct is strange…

        ashley wrote on June 29th, 2012
  28. Maybe this makes me an odd duck, but I never liked Soda. Not as a child, not as an adult. Didn’t like that sharp tingly feel from the carbon dioxide, I’d rather drink fruit juice for a treat.

    These days I actually prefer water, cool and unflavoured. Well, unless someone’s hiding a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon under the table 😉

    Malin wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • I avoid fruit juice entirely. Rather than drink a glass of apple juice I have an apple or two, that way I get much less sugar, some fiber, and feel more full.

      Instead of a glass of orange juice, I eat a nice naval orange.

      Haven’t had fruit juice since 2008.

      rob wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • Not at all – I’ve always hated the stuff too! I have a mate and I had to FORCE her on to the diet stuff as she was getting through about 8-10 litres PER DAY of the regular kind (that’s 5 bottles or about 1.4kgs of sugar. I did the handing her a bag of granulated and a spoon thing – she just didn’t get it… She has arthritis (she’s 45 now) and is 22 stone. She didn’t get that she was probably consuming about 8,000-10,000 calories a day (most of it sugar and other simple carbs)

      I’m still trying to get her on to water. He fiance’s a big lad too… If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say they weighed about 50 stone altogether…

      I drink sparkling water, sometimes with a slice of lemon and/or lime (squeeze it into the water first and you’re drinking a zero calorie ‘soda’ that’s doing you good!)

      Sarah wrote on January 26th, 2011
      • What is 22 stone?

        TJ wrote on January 26th, 2011
        • 22 stone = 308 lbs.

          Viking wrote on January 26th, 2011
        • 1 stone = 14#, so 22 = 308#

          Gregg wrote on January 26th, 2011
  29. I was pretty much eating primal before I bought the book, had lost 120 lb already, and beat insulin resistance and high triglycerides. Blood work is very clean and blood pressure low, CRP is .4.

    I don’t drink or smoke, but just could not give up Monster Low Carb. I don’t like any other sodas.

    I lost the weight and turned things around anyway, with my Monster Low Carb. I’m sure it was no help, but it didn’t block the turnaround either.

    I agree I should find something better, but I would not agree that it blocks you

    Apollonius wrote on January 26th, 2011
  30. I was never a big soda drinker and tried a diet this & diet that & hated all of them. I agree with the others that sometimes you really want the bubbly something to quench your thirst. My “splurge” is a homemade ginger drink (sweetened with honey) that is diluted with some Perrier or Pelligrino.

    Peggy wrote on January 26th, 2011
  31. I have never been a huge soda drinker, so for me giving it up was not a big deal, I honestly just don’t get how soda would even fall into primal living? We all make such an effort to avoid foods that have all of this crap in it why is a beverage any different? I would much rather have the occasional glass of wine instead of a soda.

    Hannah wrote on January 26th, 2011
  32. I find kombucha to be a very satisfying replacement for pop, diet or otherwise. You can easily brew it at home if you dont like the commercial stuff. It has a small amount of carbohydrate depending on how long you let it ferment before drinking and is very refreshing. Not sure how paleo it is because the culture requires sugar but the sugar is mostly fermented out.

    Lark wrote on January 26th, 2011
  33. Lucky for me I’ve never really been a fan of soda. But I LOOOOOVE carbonated mineral water!

    Sonia wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • I don’t think I would have been able to kick my soda habit without mineral water. I love it.

      thehova wrote on January 27th, 2011
  34. I don’t drink soda of any kind – diet or otherwise.

    I do, occasionally, drink 3-4 glasses per day of sucralose-sweetened squash, which I always dilute to half the recommended dilution. The ingredients include the following: –

    Citric Acid
    Sodium Citrate
    Malic Acid
    Potassium Sorbate
    Sodium Metabisulphite

    As far as I know, these all have clean toxicology reports.

    it is 50% fruit-juice, though, which is why I dilute it to half the recommended strength (makes it about 0.5g carb per serving as opposed to 1).

    Least I now know it won’t kill me!

    Sarah wrote on January 26th, 2011
  35. Diet soda’s give me headaches, just one can is enough to trigger one. It’s simply over priced (more expensive than petrol in Australia), utterly pointless, addictive rubbish, get rid of it from your diet!

    Water, unsweetened coffee & tea, and the occasional bourbon/scotch is all I need.

    Andrew wrote on January 26th, 2011
  36. Great post M!

    This post sent me into my archives for a couple gems I don’t see mentioned here.

    First up, try Googling “The Brain May Not Be Fooled by Sugar Substitutes” for an L.A. Times article a while back. Apparently, your brain knows the difference between real carbohydrates and artificial sweeteners as soon as the are in you mouth and regardless of whether you can consciously tell the difference or not. Wonder how this is affecting our satiety and appetite responses? I wonder how the athletes would have performed in the above-mentioned mouth-swish study if half of them had gotten artificially sweetened liquid?

    Also, check out “Artificial Sweetener May Disrupt Body’s Ability To Count Calories” from ScienceDaily in 2004. The researchers contend that artificial sweeteners break our body’s ability to register how much food we’ve eaten.

    After all that, though, I’m still struggling with the stuff. If I give up artificial sweeteners, that means I have to give up coffee. Scary.


    Formidable wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • Just a thought about your coffee……what flavor are you trying to hide with the sweetener? I like the first couple sips of hot coffee, but it starts to get too acid tasting for me. I find adding heavy cream actually sweetens it enough and I look forward to it. May just try it… and a good fat in the process. Some use coconut oil or cream I have heard.

      Karla wrote on January 26th, 2011
      • I’m with you, I really don’t like totally black coffee. I dropped the sweetener altogether a while back and just used heavy cream, as you suggest. I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, my M.D. has asked me to be casein-free for a while – no cow’s or goat’s milk of any type or amount.

        I could give the coconut milk a try, though. That might work.

        Formidable wrote on January 26th, 2011
  37. Aspartame….Yuummmm. Especially when you find out that it was produced using the feces of the e-coli bacteria. It’s a nearly a bio weapon. You know what else is sweet tasting too?? Anit-freeze. I live in Japan and Aspartame is Illegal in this country, does that tell you anything? Look into it and try to get out of your body.
    Great article but please don’t let this toxic substance be underestimated.

    Elliott wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • Um, if people can eat chicken feet and cow’s eyes…what’s the difference?

      SkepticScientist wrote on August 23rd, 2011
  38. So what is a “high quality full-fat ice cream?” I’ve been having ice cream cravings like crazy latey, so I’d like to know a good brand to buy.

    Ron wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • All of the organic or “natural” ones I’ve found (Horizon and Haggen Daz “Five”) use non-fat milk. Luna & Larry’s coconut milk ice cream is good, but sometimes I want the real thing.

      Ron wrote on January 26th, 2011
      • Is B&J’s any good over there? The stuff over here’s not bad (it even contains coconut oil; the only problem for me (Choc Macadamia’s my favourite) is the soya lecithin, as I try to avoid all soy products).

        My treat of choice, though, is the one from a lady I know in town. She makes it herself, from scratch, so I know exactly what goes in it!!

        You’ve now given me an ice-cream craving, ya evil git!

        Sarah wrote on January 26th, 2011
    • Have you thought of making your own? You can control the ingredients and amount of sugar. My grandkids love it when we take 1 cup of heavy cream (raw if I can find it) placed in a quart baggie, add a small amount of sugar and place the quart bag in a bigger bag and surround it with ice and rock salt. The kids get to work the bags until ice cream forms and then add berries (picked from the yard), coconut, dark chocolate or anything that I have on hand. Really good and not that bad for you, and you can control the amount you have to eat unlike that quart or half gallon calling to you from the freezer.

      Karla wrote on January 26th, 2011
  39. I used to drink a ton of soda back when I was a blimp.(5’6″ 330#) since going primal about a year now (been at 99% for a month now with 1 cheat meal that made me sick) when I desire something sweet to drink, I cut up fruit and put it in a pitcher of ice water. I also am enjoying sliced cucumber in ice water too.. Occasionally I will have a soda, but I have one and done. Definitly get cravings after though.

    Jason wrote on January 26th, 2011

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