Diet soda first came into the American market back in 1952 with No-Cal ginger ale. At first, it was just an incidental part of the carbonated beverage industry that didn’t get much attention. But as the interest in weight loss grew among the American population, diet soda exploded in popularity and became the industry’s flagship product.
Big soda brands are generally targeted at everyone. But when it comes to the diet versions, women have historically been the target market. Some of the most popular brands we know today first popped up in the 1960s. They included Dr. Pepper (originally called Dietetic Dr. Pepper), Pepsi (their first diet drink was called Patio Diet Cola), and Coca-Cola (they started with Tab and later introduced Fresca).
Those early diet sodas were originally sweetened with cyclamates and saccharin. But in 1969, a rat study suggested cyclamates were carcinogenic in humans and the FDA banned its use. Cyclamates were later re-evaluated and scientists concluded it was not a carcinogen, but the ban has remained.
Saccharin was also part of that rat study and was linked to the development of bladder cancer. But, further studies showed those results occur only in rats, not humans. Saccharin was eventually delisted from the U.S. National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens and is still found in some diet fountain drinks today.
In 1983, most beverage companies transitioned to using aspartame as the artificial sweetener of choice. But in recent years, sucralose and stevia have both entered the marketplace. No matter which sweetener is used, though, artificially sweetened beverages are often touted as a healthier, low-calorie alternative to sugary drinks.
Now common in a number of products, scientists have been studying the potential link between artificial sweeteners and a host of health concerns. Particularly, in a 2020 research letter published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, diet soda, in particular, looks to be associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
A Look At The Study
Researchers note that sugary drink consumption has increased worldwide in recent years, and the evidence of its “detrimental impact on cardio-metabolic health is accumulating.”
“Artificially sweetened beverages (ASB) are marketed as a healthier alternative, but their cardiometabolic impact is debated. We investigated the relationships between the consumption of sugary drinks, ASB, and the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in a large prospective cohort,” the study reads.
All diet beverages containing non-nutritive sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, and natural sweeteners (stevia) were considered ASB. A total of 104,760 participants were included in the study—with a median age of 42.9 years—and it took place in France from 2009 to 2019.
The Link Between Diet Drinks And Heart Health
Researchers assessed dietary intakes and consumption of artificial sweeteners based on repeated 24-hour dietary records, which included brand names of industrial products. When the data was compiled, they found that “both sugary drinks and ASB were associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk.”
“The findings from this large-scale prospective cohort study suggest a potential direct association between higher artificial sweetener consumption (especially aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and sucralose) and increased cardiovascular disease risk,” the study concluded.
In other words, just because your diet soda is marked “zero calories” that doesn’t mean it’s a healthier beverage alternative. Using artificial sweeteners instead of sugar isn’t the miracle alternative we once thought it was.
The harmful effects of added sugars on your health have been extensively studied, and they are now recognized as “major risk factors” by public health authorities. Sorry to have to break your Diet Coke addiction, but sugar-free sodas may be linked to serious heart problems!
Instead of drinking diet soda to get through your day, there are healthier alternatives. If you need the caffeine kick, try this copycat recipe for Panera Bread’s Iced Green Tea.
If you love the bubbles of diet soda, investing in a SodaStream sparkling water maker might be a good option. You can add any flavoring your heart desires, like these fruity drops from the popular sparkling water brand Bubly. If you love the traditional flavors of sodas, there is also this natural line of flavorings (including cola, cream soda, root beer, and cherry vanilla) from Bakto Flavors.
Of course, there’s nothing healthier than drinking plenty of ice-cold water every day. If you choose to add flavorings, just be sure to double-check the label.