Diet soft drinks not necessarily a healthy choice

Pamela Egan Practical Practitioner


By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE



Diet soft drinks not necessarily a healthy choice



Follow-up to Pam’s 11-25-2002 article: Too many soft drinks can be harmful to children

Dear Pam,

What about sugar free varieties of soft drinks? Diet soda drinkers don’t need to worry, do they?

There have been many health questions raised about the safety of aspartame (the artificial sweetener used most often in diet sodas).

According to Dr. Christine Lydon of the Yale School of Medicine, there have been approximately 100 independent studies conducted on aspartame, and more than 90 percent have demonstrated significant health risks.

These risks include statistically and significant correlations between aspartame consumption and vision impairment, hypertension, brain tumors and arthritis. There is increasing pressure on the FDA to review the classification of aspartame as generally safe in light of these studies.

While there is no conclusive proof yet of danger in aspartame consumption, there have been many questions raised by reputable medical researchers.

Caffeine, a mildly addictive stimulant drug, is present in Coke, Diet Coke, Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew, as well as some orange sodas and other products.

Caffeine’s addictiveness is well documented, and it’s probably not a coincidence that six of the seven most popular soft drinks contain caffeine. Caffeine-free colas are available, but they account for only about 5 percent of colas made by Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola.

Beyond the insulin triggering effects of caffeine (increased appetite, weight gain, low blood sugar), caffeine also increases the excretion of calcium in urine.

According to the Annals of Internal Medicine (Vol 5, 1995) drinking 12 ounces of caffeine-containing soft drink causes the loss of about 20 milligrams of calcium.

That loss, compounded by the relatively low calcium intake in girls who are heavy consumers of soda pop, increases the risk of osteoporosis in later life.

Caffeine can also cause nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness and rapid heart beat. Caffeine causes children who normally don’t consume much caffeine to be restless and fidgety, develop headaches and have difficulty going to sleep.

Also, caffeine’s addictiveness helps keep people hooked on soft drinks (or other caffeine-containing beverages). One study showed that when children age 6 to 12 stop consuming caffeine, they suffer withdrawal symptoms that impair their attention span and performance. (Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Vol 37, 1998).

Finally, several additives used in soft drinks cause occasional allergic reactions. Yellow 5 dye can cause asthma, hives and a runny nose. A natural red coloring, can cause life-threatening reactions in some cases. Many food dyes have been shown to cause hyperactivity in sensitive children. Is this really what we want our kids to be drinking?

The soft drink giants target children aggressively. To reach our kids after school, Coca-Cola is paying $60 million over 10 years to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America for exclusive marketing rights in more than 2,000 clubs.

What can we as parents do? Don’t buy soft drinks, either diet or regular.

Buy convenience size bottles of water) the 0 calorie waters with fruit essences are good), 100 percent juice, flavored milks.

Send your kids off to school with a drink, not money for the machine. Freeze juice boxes the night before and pack them with your child’s lunch. Keep a cooler in your car filled with healthy drinks and snacks like protein bars.

The goal here is to teach your kids they have options. Show them that they don’t have to always reach for a Coke or a Pepsi when they are looking for something to drink.

Even if they still drink a soda, if you don’t supply it they’ll drink less, especially if they have to pay for it with their own money. Sugar, chemicals, caffeine, food-coloring- surely we can offer our children something better.

This article was originally published December 3, 2002 in The St. Tammany News. > Health Articles > Health and Wellness