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Artificial sugar in diet soda



What are the health risks of the artificial sweetners in diet soda drinks?


The noncaloric artificial sweeteners that I have seen in diet sodas are saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and sucralose. I may have seen a reduced calorie soda that used sorbitol too. Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol and is poorly absorbed. Therefore it provides fewer calories than sugar (sucrose). The health effect of too much sorbitol is diarrhea.

The American Dietetic Association’s position paper on Sweeteners (February, 2004) gave me the following information: In general the noncaloric sweeteners have low health risks for the general population. The estimated intakes of the nonnutritive sweeteners in children is higher than for adults because of a child’s smaller body size, but is still well below the acceptable daily intake. (as low as 10.4% for aspartame and as high as 60% for acesulfame potassium) Because of the lack of data available on the effect of saccharin in children the ADA recommends limiting a child’s saccharin intake, including those in diet sodas.

There is come concern about using saccharin when pregnant. Saccharin can cross the placenta and may remain in fetal tissue because of slow fetal clearance. It’s unclear if the combined in utero exposure plus the use of saccharin throughout life could influence cancer risk. Studies in animals suggest a possible relationship between risk of bladder cancer and neonatal exposure. One human study didn’t find a connection. Rat studies with the other nonnutritive sweeteners (acesulfame potassium, aspartame, sucralose) have not turned up any problems in pregnancy. There seems to be no change in fertility, litter size, body weight, growth or mortality with the acesulfame potassium or sucralose. Aspartame is made up of two amino acids. Amino acids normally cross the placenta to nourish the fetus. But even people who carry the gene for phenylketonuria do not have a high enough level of phenylalanine in their blood to cause any neurologic problems in the fetus. Nonnutritive sweeteners do not promote tooth decay.

As part of the FDA approval process, toxicology testing can examine the impact of noncaloric sweeteners on behavior, especially when consumed within acceptable daily intakes. The approved sweeteners did not show significant effects on behavior. Case studies in the literature have linked aspartame to headaches. Consumer complaints have included dizziness, and nausea/vomiting. Anecdotally, aspartame has also been linked to seizures, cognitive impairment, and mood disorders. A review of the literature refutes these last associations. People who think that aspartame gives them headaches, dizziness or nausea should read food labels and avoid foods (including diet sodas) with aspartame in them (just as people do who are allergic to a specific food).

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