Diet Soda: New Warnings About Its “Deceptive” Ingredient

By Milo Jones | Posted September 26, 2023

Would you drink 14 cans of diet soda a day?

According to global health experts, that’s the safe limit for the average person. Since its approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1981, aspartame has become the world’s most popular artificial sweetener, replacing sugar in zero-calorie sodas like Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi.

But aspartame is not only “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” according to a statement released in July by the World Health Organization (WHO). It is also “linked to potential problems with memory and learning,” according to a recent study from Florida State University (FSU) involving mice.

The Mice

Over a 16-week period, researchers from FSU’s College of Medicine studied three groups of male mice, two of which had aspartame added to their water. One group consumed 15 percent of the FDA’s maximum recommended daily intake of aspartame, the equivalent of four 8-ounce diet sodas; the second group consumed 7 percent, the equivalent of two 8-ounce diet sodas; and the third group consumed only water. 

At intervals of four weeks, eight weeks, and 12 weeks, the mice were given a test to complete a maze. The maze at the 12-week interval contained 40 possible choices with only one “escape box.” The mice that drank only water were able to find the box quickly, while those that consumed aspartame needed more time and, in some cases, a little help to complete the task.

The study, published on August 31 in Scientific Reports, concluded that “aspartame consumption at doses equivalent to 7–15% of the FDA recommended maximum human daily intake value produce learning and memory deficits in male mice.” Those deficits, according to one of the researchers, were “significant,” despite the affected mice’s ability to “compensate in some sort of way” to eventually complete the maze.

So maybe the FDA should take “a closer, multi-generational perspective on the effects of aspartame,” the researcher said. After all, those mice “consumed aspartame at levels equivalent to much lower doses than those deemed safe by the [FDA].”

Furthermore, the neurological effects are not limited to memory function. In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in December 2022, the same research team used the same amounts of aspartame to test other groups of mice for anxiety. In those given aspartame, “pronounced anxiety-like behavior was observed … through a variety of maze tests.” Also, both the anxiety and the memory problems were seen in the mice’s offspring, suggesting that “aspartame may cause genetic changes in sperm that may affect future generations.”

Then how, in the face of FSU’s findings, can the Calorie Control Council defend the use of this synthetic chemical? In a statement to Fox News Digital, the Council’s president denied the “link between low- and no-calorie sweeteners and cognitive impairments.” “The findings of this study are in contradiction to the totality of evidence and the numerous global health organizations that have regarded aspartame as safe,” he said.

The Consumers

The “industry experts” might be willing to say anything to settle the fears of the millions of consumers who depend on low- and no-calorie sweeteners to reduce their sugar intake. According to a HundredX survey of 150,000 respondents, the WHO’s announcement that aspartame is “possibly carcinogenic” has not affected consumers’ feelings about diet soda. In fact, sales of these drinks have increased by 2 percent since May.

It should be noted, however, that it was the WHO’s cancer research arm that made the statement about aspartame being a possible carcinogen—contradicting an added statement from a different WHO department that the ingredient is “safe to consume … within a certain limit.”

Amid such confusion, the HundredX survey seems to indicate that consumer demand for calorie-free carbonation remains strong and that “opinion over the safety of these beverages … has not changed.” This was surprising to HundredX members, who expected “the potential health implications” to “have a more negative impact on people’s intent to consume diet soda.” According to the vice president of strategy, “consumers will likely continue to drink diet soda despite the health risks … believing they are better for them than regular soda.”

For soda giants like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, that should be “welcomed news,” especially in a market where sales of drinks containing high fructose corn syrup have dropped as consumers watch their sugar intake. These companies have “large stakes in the sugar-free space with Coke Zero, Diet Coke, Pepsi Zero Sugar and Diet Pepsi,” which bring in “hundreds of millions of dollars in sales each year.” All four of these drinks contain aspartame.

The Overcomers

In light of the recent warnings about this artificial sweetener, why would consumers continue to drink diet soda? Because they “care more about other factors that bring them more happiness,” said HumanX’s vice president of strategy. Factors “like taste.”

But is true happiness found by indulging our tastebuds? Let’s see what the Bible says.

Proverbs 23:1–3 gives us this counsel: “When you sit down to eat with a ruler, consider carefully what is before you; and put a knife to your throat if you are a man given to appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for they are deceptive food.” 

Is not diet soda “deceptive food” when advertised as a healthy alternative to regular soda? Even the word “diet” is misleading!

Replacing one unhealthy option with another is not in God’s plan for our happiness. Any substitute that “doesn’t require a massive behavior shift from [consumers]”—those are the words of the CEO of Olipop—should be a red flag to Christians. Olipop is a “prebiotic soda” that contains far less sugar than the average carbonated drink. The problem with this “healthier” option is the price. One 12-ounce can is $3!

Our happiness, then, does “require a massive behavior shift.” Ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:6), our tastebuds cannot be trusted. When God’s people in the wilderness “yielded to intense craving” instead of enjoying the manna He had provided (Numbers 11:4–6), many of them became sick and died (vv. 31–34). In another wilderness, Jesus overcame these intense cravings (Matthew 4:1–4), and He invites us to follow His example (Luke 9:23).

For information on true dieting, read “10 Bible Principles on How to Lose Weight.

Milo Jones
Milo Jones is a writer and editor for Amazing Facts International and lives in College Place, WA.

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