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Is Diet Soda Too Good to Be True?

Posted Mar 25 2012 - 2:00pm

soda vending machine carbonated beverages sugary drinks pepsi mountain dew


Cigarettes, coffee and chocolate: if there were a conspiracy theory about addictive substances that start with the letter c, the next item on the list would be Coke (we’re talking about the drink here!). In a recent Her Campus survey, two-thirds of college women who drink diet soda named Diet Coke as their beverage of choice. What’s more, even though soft-drink sales have actually gone down since 2005, Diet Coke sales soared past those of Pepsi-Cola for the first time ever in 2010. The news not only reveals that the two reigning soda-pop juggernauts are both Coke products (Coke Classic is still sitting pretty in the #1 spot), but it also highlights the growing presence of “diet” beverages in our lives.

Myriad studies have surfaced in the past few years which suggest that our love for artificially-sweetened drinks may be unfounded and even dangerous. Since Diet Coke can usually be found in every other collegiette’s hand at any given time, Her Campus decided to investigate the health concerns associated with diet sodas to see what all the fuss is about. What’s more, we enlisted the expertise of Carnegie Mellon health specialist and nutritionist, Paula Martin, to see what other beverage options are out there.

diet coke addicted to soda carbonated beverage sugary drink

An article on The Huffington Post profiled a woman named Ellen Talles who drinks about 2 liters of Diet Soda every day. Talles always makes sure that her cabinet is fully stocked and panics “like somebody who doesn’t have their pack of cigarettes” when she’s down to her last bottle. While the older woman’s case may not mirror everyone’s, Paula Martin notes that diet soda addictions aren’t impossible.

“Diet soda can be up to 200 times as sweet as regular soda,” Paula says. “What happens when you have something that your mouth tells you is really, really sweet is you drink it and you adjust. Then your brain begins to wonder where that sugar is and wants more.”

In an HC survey on diet soda, 83.3% of college-age participants said that they stick to drinking 1 or 2 bottles of soda from vending machines a day; while 16.7% drink three or four bottles a day. However, 30% of those surveyed reported that they experienced headaches or irritability when they went too long without a fix or tried to go cold turkey.

The “Heart” Truth

diet coke commercial women's health zero calorie soda drink

In 2008, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute formed a partnership with Diet Coke to spread awareness about heart disease and women’s health concerns. More recently, however, various news outlets including MSNBC, the LA Times, and ABC News have jumped on a new study which suggests that daily intake of diet soda increases soft-drink guzzlers’ chances of having a heart attack or stroke. Should collegiettes who include diet drinks among one of the principle items in their food pyramid reconsider their drinking habits?

“It’s important to ask ourselves what we’re displacing from our diets [by choosing these beverages],” says Paula. “From a health promotion standpoint, I cannot encourage something that is not health promoting. Aspartame doesn’t actually cause anything at this point, but it doesn’t promote health, either.” 

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