FOOD

Why Diet Soft Drink Isn't The Worst Thing In The World

Everything in moderation, folks.

02/06/2016 7:10 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST
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Turns out, it's not soda pressing.

Diet soft drinks do not have a good reputation. Often viewed as a chemical cocktail of questionable ingredients, the general consensus (according to the internet) is to stay far, far away from these largely artificial concoctions.

But are they actually as bad as they're made out to be?

According to Lisa Renn, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, the answer is no.

"The chemicals that are used to artificially sweeten are among the most heavily tested chemicals in our food today," Renn told The Huffington Post Australia.

"The American drug and food authority has said in quite a clear cut manner that they are safe."

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"If you drink lots of diet soft drink in large quantities, because of the acid in them, it can damage your teeth," she continued. "But that's really the only risk that's actually known at this point."

Of course, that's not to say that diet soft drink is ideal. It's not. Far from it. But indulging in a can from time to time isn't going to see your insides spontaneously combust o​r your teeth suddenly fall out of your head.

"As dietitians, we certainly -- as far as drinks go -- agree across the board that water is the best drink for you," Renn said.

"If you are going for a flavoured soft drink, be it a diet soft drink or not, it's not going to be as healthy a practice as drinking water.

"If you want something a little bit different, you can flavour it with fresh fruit or a squeeze of lemon juice. It is the gold standard of drinks and absolutely what dietitians will be recommending."

"Diet soft drink occasionally is not a problem. If you are relying on it every day as your hydration, we would not be considering that to be making the most healthy choice that you could​."

It's the same thing as carbs getting such a bad rap, and some of the oils getting such a bad rap. Things don't have to be 'bad' to get a bad rap these days in the health industry​.

Now let's talk about weight. Of course, one of the major draw cards for diet soft drinks is they still provide that 'sweet' kick, without the calories found in one of their more sugary friends.

However, there have been claims they may not be as weight-loss friendly as they first appear.

As outlined by Brooke Alpert, author of The Sugar Detox: "Artificial sweeteners trigger insulin, which sends your body into fat storage mode and leads to weight gain".

"Physiologically that doesn't really make sense because glucose is the trigger for insulin, so it's not likely," Renn said.

"It may be that it increases sugar cravings, but it's not clear from research at this point."

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While water is best, the occasional soft drink (diet or otherwise) won't kill you.

Speaking of research, Renn points out there is some preliminary soft drink research which may point to some more harmful effects on human health, however at this point, it is simply too early to tell.

"There are some rat studies -- so I'm talking really preliminary stuff -- which showed that rats who were fed artificial sweeteners had a change in their gut bacteria which made them more insulin resistant," Renn said.

"That is a really interesting point for further study. It's an interesting thing, the impact of artificial sweetener on gut bacteria. But there's still a big question mark around that. We don't know for certain."

Seeing as nothing seems to be substantiated as yet, HuffPost Australia put the question to Renn: why do diet soft drinks get such a bad rap in the first place?

"It's the same thing as carbs getting such a bad rap, and some of the oils getting such a bad rap," she said. "Things don't have to be 'bad' to get a bad rap these days in the health industry​.

"All of these claims against diet soft drinks are fairly unsubstantiated."

Reducing sugar is a great thing to do. Cutting it out and trying to avoid it completely becomes obsessive.

As for claims that artificial sweeteners can cause allergies, Renn says that, too, is highly unlikely.

"I've heard some people say it's a major cause of food intolerance and allergy reactions," Renn said. "But actually, no, food colouring and flavours are more likely to do that than artificial sweeteners."

Now for the big question. Faced with choosing between a diet soft drink and a normal soft drink, what would Renn herself pick to drink?

"I would go for a normal soft drink -- and I do, very occasionally --because I prefer the taste," Renn said. "Taste is why we should be having these things. Soft drinks, diet or not, are a sometimes food.

"Very occasionally I will buy soft drinks for my kids and when I do, I buy them normal ones. I don't have a huge issue against sugar. I don't think there's anything wrong with having it sometimes.

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Sugar is ok... sometimes.

"That's the new thing that everyone hates: sugar. But it's actually very similar to the artificial sweeteners in that, do we need them? No we don't. But a little bit is fine. There is no need to obsess," Renn continued.

"Reducing sugar is a great thing to do. Cutting it out and trying to avoid it becomes obsessive."

So all in all, Renn does not give soft drink the green light. However, she doesn't give it the red light, either.

"I am not, by any means, saying 'let's go, let's replace water with diet soft drink'," Renn said.

"But at this point, all it's going to do is wreck your teeth as far as what science tells us. Taking into account a new body of evidence, it might have impact on gut bacteria and the implications of over consuming might not be good for you.

"Artificial sweeteners have been more researched than stevia.

"But there's really no big deal around them, and as I said, artificial sweeteners are being very well researched.

"Artificial sweeteners been more researched than stevia, and yet everyone is jumping up and down about stevia as a sugar alternative.

"In reality, there is less research on it than [the artificial sweetener] aspartame, so that is something to think about."

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