Are diet soft drinks really bad for you?

As someone who drinks an exorbitant amount of ‘diet soft drink’, I often get told that ‘diet drinks are much worse for you than normal soft drink’. I usually ask, ‘why?’ and usually, get a vague and pseudoscientific response in return.

DEMONISED: The notorious diet soft drink can.

DEMONISED: The notorious diet soft drink can.

After doing a little bit of research I’ve come to the conclusion that diet drinks are really no worse than normal soft drink and in fact, might actually be ‘better’ for you as the label suggests because they contain zero sugar. 

Firstly, the reason most people claim diet soft drinks are bad is because of the artificial sweeteners added in replacement of real sugar. 

But what about every other food product on the shelves that contain artificial sweeteners? This list is enormous and includes common brands of yoghurt, juices, protein bars and spreads all claiming to be ‘health-food’ items. 

According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, nearly half of adults and a quarter of children in the U.S consume artificial sweeteners almost every day. I note this is from an American sample – but I’d say it’s a fair representation of a typical western-society such as Australia.

Aspartame is the most commonly used artificial sweetener and is approved by many health-related organisations such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation. 

There are no scientific studies to this date that can consistently conclude aspartame causes negative health effects.

Some studies suggest a correlation between negative health effects and aspartame consumption but correlation does not mean causality. 

Scientists have also noted that this correlation is most likely due to the fact people who consume ‘diet soft drinks’ are more likely to have unhealthy diet and lifestyle habits that cause the negative health effects – not actually the aspartame.

I’m still trying to quit consuming all types of processed food and drink – but until then I’ll still choose to drink a soft drink that contains less sugar than its counterpart if there is no adequate reason to conclude a downfall.