Is Diet Coke bad for you?

There is nothing more refreshing and awakening than a fresh glass of ice cold Diet Coke in the morning. It’s a universal truth among Diet Coke drinkers. We have other options – like coffee or orange juice – but those have calories and lack the bubbling sensation as it goes down our throats. We reach a point where Diet Coke becomes our water. And is that a bad thing? Is Diet Coke bad for you?

It is an age old question that divides two camps – one screaming “Yes, aspartame causes cancer!” and the other, often considered in denial, screaming “No, it is fine.” Writing as Diet Coke Diaries, it sounds as if I am on the latter side of the argument, but I’d like to think that I’ve done considerable research and have established an unbiased position. I’ve been drinking over a liter of Diet Coke a day for about six years now. I am aware of what is going into my body and what effects it has on me.

The controversy over Diet Coke is rooted in its artificial sweetener, aspartame. It was first synthesized in 1965 as a sugar substitute – it is two hundred times sweeter than table sugar, so only a very small amount is needed to achieve the same sweetness. Because of the minute dosage, its caloric contribution is considered trifling. Even when it is in the body, it is quickly digested.

Although, and as I mentioned before, critics have targeted its alleged link to cancer as the main focal part of their argument. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency responsible for regulating and protecting public health and wellbeing, has completed numerous studies on aspartame and its side effects over the years – all of which have returned inconclusive. Of course, the critics have dubbed the FDA to be politically biased, incorrect, and just plain stupid, so for the sake of rationality, I will omit the FDA from my analysis based on those baseless claims. After all, aspartame has been approved in over 130 countries and dozens of private and public agencies around the world have conducted their own research, so it isn’t like I am short on references.

The National Cancer Institute conducted a study on about 500,000 people and returned no link between aspartame and cancer, leukemia, and lymphoma. The research was conducted on the basis that increased levels of cancer were prevalent in a study done on female rats and on the basis that brain cancer has increased over the years and people have pointed to artificial sweeteners being the culprit. The first one, while interesting, was conducted on female rats, therefore not entirely representational of human beings, thus the National Cancer Institute conducted their own human research. The latter claim was refuted and criticized for ecological fallacies as for artificial sweeteners weren’t the only thing that changed in American lifestyles in the years studied.

The Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of Diet Coke is 50mg per kilogram of body weight. I weight about 150 pounds or 68 kilograms, so my aspartame ADI is 3,400mg. Each ounce of diet soda contains 15 mg of aspartame. I would need to drink 226 ounces – 19 cans or four 2L bottles of Diet Coke – in a day to be above my acceptable daily intake. I’d say that the most Diet Coke I ever drank is two full bottles in a day. I usually drink one bottle a day, but rarely do I drink more than that. I’d say that I am safe within my aspartame intake and the chance of developing cancer solely on my Diet Coke consumption is nil.

Critics also claim that Diet Coke is bad for you because it increases your risk for obesity. I have a little more sympathy in this claim because I do believe that some of them are true, but Diet Coke isn’t inherently linked to obesity and diabetes, merely the actions related to Diet Coke consumption are. The same applies to how eating carrots reduces the possibility of becoming blind – it isn’t the carrot that does it, but rather the person that is likely to eat the carrots (and other healthy foods) are less likely to become blind later in life.

The obesity claim stems from the diet fallacy where people think it is okay to eat multiple low-fat options instead of one full-fat option. (Two low-fat yogurts at 70 calories will add up to 40 calories more than one full-fat yogurt at 100 calories!) However, I don’t use Diet Coke as an excuse to eat more, nor do I think that consuming Diet Coke makes me eat more. I’m naturally a fatass and if you ask anyone if I am obese, they’d respond with a resounding no. The diet fallacy comes down to whether or not someone can balance their caloric intake and dietary needs, not consuming Diet Coke.

I’m content with my Diet Coke consumption. I truly believe that there is more to bad health than consuming a drink that has never been proven detrimental to human health. I have received a clean bill of health for the past eighteen years of my life, and even some concerns for weight loss these recent years. Living in Manhattan certainly helps with exercise and I can’t imagine my recent endeavors in fattening foods – within the past few months, really – have had that much of an effect on me.


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