Diet or Regular? The Other Age-Old Question

by Teesta Bose on March 27, 2014

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In my last blog post, I wrote about the link between the caramel coloring of cola and cancer. 4-Methylimidazole (4-Mel) is a by-product of the caramel coloring process used in manufacturing cola, and many studies have shown that long-term exposure to 4-Mel causes lung cancer in mice. Some brands, including Coca-Cola, A&W, and Whole Foods, have altered their caramel coloring processes to produce much lower amounts of 4-Mel. Pepsi-Cola, whose products have repeatedly been found to contain high levels of 4-Mel, has yet to change its coloring process. I concluded my last post by saying that until Pepsi makes amends to its cola recipe, I will not be drinking their products. There is no reason I should expose myself to a carcinogen, especially one whose function is providing a brown color to a sugary beverage I probably should not be drinking anyway. Also, brown is my least favorite color and I don’t like the idea of the color brown giving me cancer.

Soda is by no means good for me, but sometimes (about once a week) I like to eat most of a pizza and I find that soda really accompanies pizza the best. Since I’m not drinking Pepsi-Cola products, I’m left with Coca-Cola products for these weekly pizza fests. I don’t mind this because I’ve always been a big fan of Sprite, a Coke product. Sierra Mist, a Pepsi product, tastes sweeter to me, and Mountain Dew, another Pepsi product, is a scary color. I don’t know why, but I am very particular about the color of my beverages – especially since writing my last blog post. Many of my friends know that I prefer Sprite to Sierra Mist, but many of my friends don’t understand why I prefer regular Sprite to Diet Sprite. They say, “Oh, diet sodas definitely taste better. They also keep me from consuming too many calories.” I aim to call “shenanigans” on these statements that my friends, and many other individuals, make about diet drinks.

Diet sodas are sweetened with artificial sweeteners. The 5 artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA are saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, and neotame. Increased consumption of saccharin-containing beverages has been linked to increase risk of bladder cancer in rats. Increased consumption of aspartame-containing beverages has been linked to increased risks of leukemia and brain cancer in rats. While studies have not shown conclusive evidence linking artificial sweeteners to cancers in humans, the FDA is constantly reviewing and monitoring artificial sweeteners as more research is being conducted. Rats and humans are quite similar genetically, as we both have about 3 billion base pairs. Almost all human genes known to be associated with disease have counterparts in the rat genome, which shows that rats are excellent models for medical research. To my friends who feel diet sodas taste better, I urge you to weigh “taste” and the potential risk of cancer carefully.

Diet sodas are often used as a means of weight loss. In a cross-sectional study of individuals varying in weight, from “normal” to “overweight” to “obese,” researchers found that the caloric intake of adults who preferred diet sodas to be higher than adults who drank regular sodas. A survey conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health revealed that 22% of those choosing diet drinks were obese and 19% were overweight. Based on these studies, it seems that adults relying on diet sodas to reduce their caloric intake consume more calories from food, increasing their risk of weight gain. Again, to my friends who drink diet sodas to avoid calories, I ask you to consider varying your beverage choices and exhibiting healthier food choices.

Soda is not obviously not the healthiest choice of beverage, but in a world where almost everything is linked to an increased risk of something, I think choosing regular sodas over diet sodas is an easy way to avoid being exposed to some potentially dangerous chemicals. The best way to drink sodas, however, would be in moderation. I think “once a week, with pizza” would be considered “in moderation.” I also think the “once-a-week pizza” helps to absorb the questionable ingredients in soda. At least that’s what I’ll keep telling myself.


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