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Exploring Diet Fizzy Drinks: Making Informed Choices

Updated: Feb 5

Two glasses of fizzy drink with ice

Today I'm delving into a question that's been generating lots of discussion of late – the place of diet fizzy drinks within our daily dietary choices. With the recent release of the new WHO Guideline on Non-Sugar Sweeteners and the media spotlight shining on Aspartame, I felt it was an opportune time to unravel the complexities and explore whether these fizzy beverages truly align with our health goals.

Before we begin, it is important to keep in mind that nutrition isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s about discovering what fits best for you. So, let's explore into this topic with a well-rounded perspective.

Exploring the Fizz

When we talk about fizzy drinks, think of classics like cola, lemonade, and orangeade. The question on our minds is, do these diet versions truly make a positive difference? Well, the answer isn't universal; it depends on your personal journey towards better health.

For those consuming sugary fizzy drinks regularly, switching to diet alternatives can be a helpful stepping stone as you work towards broader dietary changes. Many sugary drinks contain as much as 9 or 10 teaspoons of sugar in a bottle or can. Consistent consumption can contribute to unwelcome weight gain. Carrying excess weight is associated with an increased risk of various cancers and health concerns. Additionally, sugary drinks are bad for your teeth and typically lack essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fibre, or protein.

For those who enjoy diet fizzy drinks only occasionally, there's no need to be concerned. These infrequent instances typically have a minimal impact; it's the everyday choices that play a significant role in shaping our overall well-being.

Navigating Diabetes

For people managing diabetes, opting for diet fizzy drinks over their sugar-sweetened counterparts is important to maintaining stable blood sugar levels.

What about Aspartame?

Aspartame, a widely used artificial sweetener present in various food and beverage products, has recently come under scrutiny due to potential associations with cancer. In July 2023, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) conducted a collaborative evaluation of the health risks associated with aspartame.

The evaluation considered both human and animal studies, revealing limited evidence connecting aspartame to potential cancer risk in humans. Consequently, IARC classified aspartame as 'possibly carcinogenic.' JECFA looked at how safe it is to use aspartame in everyday amounts. They found insufficient evidence linking aspartame to the risk of cancer or other diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

They concluded that the previous acceptable daily intake should not change. The World Health Organization (WHO) has established an acceptable daily intake of 0-40mg per kg of body weight, which is about 2,800mg for an average-weight man (70kg). This is roughly equivalent to 9-14 cans of Diet Coke per day if aspartame is not consumed from other sources.

In this context, the principle of moderation is essential. It's important to remember that the potential risks associated with consuming aspartame remain low, particularly when adhering to the acceptable daily intake. As Swiss physician and chemist Paracelsus expressed, 'The dose makes the poison.' For those who find themselves regularly consuming more than 9-14 cans of diet drinks a day, it's a good opportunity to consider alternative, more hydrating, and nourishing choices.

Making Informed Choices

When contemplating whether to make diet fizzy drinks a staple in your routine, my recommendation is to lean towards alternatives that offer greater benefits.

Here's why:

  • Artificially sweetened drinks are often known for their notably sweet taste, which may potentially amplify cravings for sugary flavours. This effect might hinder long-term efforts to reduce overall sugar intake. More research is needed to establish a clear and consistent understanding of this potential relationship.

  • Emerging research suggests that artificial sweeteners might affect the balance of helpful bacteria in our digestive system (gut microbiome). But we need more human studies to fully understand this. Scientists have been studying how our gut bacteria connect to our health, including fighting off diseases, digesting food, and regulating blood sugar. They're even looking at how we can use this knowledge to help people undergoing cancer treatment. While we wait for more answers, it's a good idea to focus on a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fibre, and increasing consumption of plant-based foods instead of just looking at sweeteners.

  • Opting for diet fizzy drinks could mean missing out on beverages with actual nutritional value. While diet drinks are often calorie-free, they typically don't offer any essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, or antioxidants that your body needs for overall health.

  • If you're concerned about your bone health: take note of advice from the Royal Osteoporosis Society – excessive cola consumption might not be the best choice for supporting your bones.

Exploring Refreshing Alternatives

Sparkling water with slices of orange and sprigs of thyme

  • Enrich your still or sparkling water with a twist of citrus zest, like lemon, lime, or orange, for a burst of natural flavour.

  • Add a few slices of cucumber to your water for a subtly cool and revitalising sip.

  • Drop a few fresh mint leaves into your water for a refreshing and invigorating touch.

  • Grate or slice some fresh ginger into your water to create a zesty and soothing drink with a hint of warmth.

  • Muddle various berries (like strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries) in the bottom of a glass and add still or sparkling water.

  • Infuse water with lemon balm leaves for a gentle citrusy taste and a touch of herbal goodness.

  • Mix sparkling water with a dash of fruit juice to create a bubbly alternative to fizzy pop.

  • Brew a cup of herbal tea, such as green tea, let it cool, and enjoy a refreshing sip. Notably, it's also abundant in cell-protecting antioxidants!

  • Explore naturally flavoured sparkling water brands like DASH Water, Aqua Libra, M&S, and more.

Summing Up:

As you navigate through the complexities of health decisions, especially during cancer treatment, the last thing you need is a lengthy checklist of “more things to do”. It's perfectly fine if cutting down on diet fizzy drinks isn't currently your top priority. In fact, that's entirely understandable. Remember, the question of whether these drinks align with your wellness goals isn't set in stone. Instead, it's about discovering a balance that suits your unique circumstances, making choices based on informed perspectives, and finding alternatives that resonate with your health aspirations. This process empowers you to craft a sustainable and holistic approach to your diet, all while honouring the challenges you're facing.

If you or a loved one could benefit from nutrition support, advice, and encouragement, please feel free to get in touch with us at The Cancer Dietitian for a consultation. I would be delighted to help you work towards improved health and well-being.

Telephone: 020 8064 2865

Appointments: book here

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