The New Diet Coke Ad: Is it safe?
This is a snapshot I took while visiting the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta.
The saga continues. This morning I appeared on CBS 5 in Phoenix to discuss Coca-Cola company’s new ad defending their products, namely aspartame-containing Diet Coke. With Diet Coke sales dropping by 3% last year (Beverage News), placing the ad is an attempt to win back market share.
Here are some things that you should know.
1. Does aspartame cause cancer?
I don’t think anyone really knows what’s going on.
The FDA ruled that aspartame is safe for human consumption in reasonable quantities in certain foods and beverages, or rather, that no credible evidence exists to prove that it causes cancer in humans. The health advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest (who has no ties to the food industry) recommends that more studies be done. Their skepticism is largely based on three Italian studies that demonstrated how aspartame causes tumors and cancers in rats and mice. However, these studies have been disregarded by the FDA. Instead the FDA is mostly riding on a large independent epidemiological (meaning not cause and effect, but correlational) study that concluded that aspartame consumption wasn’t linked to cancer. The study included participants mostly between the ages of 50-70 years old. Aspartame didn’t even hit the market until the 1980s, so the study doesn’t properly account for aspartame in utero or in children. The study spanned 5 years.
The bottom line: More non-industry sponsored studies should be done to determine whether or not aspartame consumed over a lifetime causes cancer in humans.
Do artificial sweeteners cause you to crave more sweet foods?
Again, there’s controversy here.Increasing evidence shows that artificial sweeteners do not activate the food reward pathways the same as natural sweeteners do—only partially. Thus, food and drink containing artificial sweeteners may be perceived as less satisfying, leaving one to seek out other calories and compensate later.
Further, the taste buds eventually adjust to a reduced intake of fat and sodium and leads to a preference for lower levels of these nutrients. Human studies have demonstrated this. If you’ve ever reduced your fat or sodium intake, you’ve likely experienced this phenomenon.
The bottom line: Until we know more, a wise path for consumers to follow would be to gradually decrease intake of both caloric and non-caloric sweeteners, with the goal being to experience similar satisfaction with less sweet foods. Since these sweeteners provide no nutritional benefit, nothing is lost by excluding them from the diet.
Do nutritionists consume aspartame?
I keep my aspartame consumption to as little as possible, with my only source being through (surprise!) a Diet Coke while away from home–maybe once per month.If a Diet Coke sounds tempting, I opt for an unsweetened iced tea with a tiny splash of something sweet. When it comes to other sweets, I go for the real deal: sugar in some shape or form and in very moderate amounts.
At home, I buy Diet Coke with Splenda (pretty much believed to be safe) and a bit of asulfame potassium (but yikes, this one’s controversial, too). My husband and I enjoy a can or two per week.
Sweeteners set aside, soda contains phosphoric acid, which is highly acidic and can erode tooth enamel.
Is aspartame safe for kids?
According to the FDA, aspartame is safe for kids. I believe that artificial sweeteners have no place in kids’ diets. My daughter has never had soda or artificial sweeteners and does not appear curious about trying them. She knows her daily options (that she likes) are water, milk, kefir smoothie, and an occasional 100% fruit juice.
What you can do until more is known
Choose foods and beverages with the least amount of sweetener. Rather than making dramatic dietary changes to reduce sugar intake, work gradually by enjoying less-sweet foods and drinks, enjoy more whole fruits with no sugar added, and keep tempting highly sweetened foods out of sight, out of mind.
While an occasional can of soda is unlikely to do harm to most individuals, choose mostly water and low-fat milk, and if you desire, moderate amounts of unsweetened tea, coffee, 100% fruit juice and plain coconut water. That’s what I drink. What do you drink?
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