Can you taste the difference between a diet cola and the regular version? If you can’t, artificial sweeteners are doing their job. Some people report a strange taste from zero-calorie sweeteners, but they’re still somewhat miraculous. How can something with no calories taste so sweet?
If you take a sweetener out of the packet and taste it with nothing else, it seems remarkably sweet. Pound for pound, artificial sweeteners are tens or hundreds of times sweeter than regular table sugar. In other words, you don’t need much to sweeten up a diet drink.
Diet drinks also come with a stigma. A commonly-held fear is that artificial sweeteners cause cancer. Decades ago, research on rats seemed to show that excessive amounts of one brand of sweetener, called aspartame, caused cancer. If you read the fine print of the study, you see that the rats were given 40 – 60 times the amount of sweetener that any human could consume in a day.
In other words, it would be nearly impossible to consume this much aspartame through diet drinks alone.
A more recent fear is that diet drinks could cause adult-onset diabetes and weight gain. These fears are also unfounded, according to a 2020 study published in Frontiers in Nutrition. The researchers found that consumption of fake sugars had no significant effect on body weight.
Diet drinks can be useful, particularly if you enjoy soda and cocktails. The sugar in soda adds up very quickly. A 12-ounce can of coca-cola contains 39 grams of sugar. Drink two of those per day and you’ve added an extra 78 grams of sugar to your daily intake.
Cutting down on your sugar and calorie intake can help with weight loss. Diet drinks also help curb your sweet tooth. Since they give the illusion of drinking real sugar, they can be quite satisfying if you need something sweet.
Cocktails are another place you can consider adding artificial sweeteners. The alcohol in a cocktail, assuming it contains 3 ounces of liquor, is 120 calories on its own. Add in sugary liquids and syrups, and that number climbs even higher. Some cocktails are 300-400 calories per drink!
Diet drinks are helpful because they cut out the sugar and calories, but don’t use them as a crutch. Just because your cocktail has diet mixers doesn’t mean you can have three more than usual! Use diet drinks as a substitute when you need them, but stick to other healthy eating and drinking principles as much as you can.