Do a Google search for aspartame, the artificial sweetener in many popular diet drinks, and you'll see a number of alarming headlines like the one I spotted, which claimed "Aspartame: By Far the Most Dangerous Substance Added to Most Foods Today." Considering this particular article was viewed by nearly 893,000 people and shared more than 60,000 times across social networks, this is clearly a topic of major concern -- and confusion.
Let's put it this way: If you can't quit your mid-afternoon vending machine run, you're in luck. A recent report from the European Food Safety Authority has affirmed the safety of aspartame, which is also OK'd by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
To put it in perspective, a 150-pound woman could drink 20 12-ounce cans of diet soda a day without exceeding the safety threshold, according to Dr. Bernadene Magnusun, Senior Scientist and Regulatory Consultant at Cantox Health Sciences International. The EFSA also concluded that aspartame is safe for use by pregnant women, and doesn't cause cancer, harm the brain or nervous system, or impact cognitive function in adults or kids.
I find this news very reassuring since although I eat very healthfully, I still sip an occasional diet soda. But if you're downing diet soft drinks in hopes of losing weight and boosting your health, it's important to consider what else you're eating and drinking. The sips alone may not harm you, but if you're still eating a crummy diet -- routine consumption of processed foods, meat and other animal fare, as well as sugary beverages and snacks -- it won't help you much either. This type of menu will lead to a difficult time controlling your weight and an increased risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, despite your zero-calorie soda habit.
My advice: If you're drinking sweetened sodas, switch to diet to save calories (and your teeth). But don't stop there -- make additional improvements by boosting your produce intake and swapping whole grains for refined ones.
- By Samantha Cassetty, M.S., R.D.
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