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Stephanie Malouf | Accredited Practicing Nutritionist

Would you like a stroke with that diet coke? The shocking truth about artificial sweeteners

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Would you like a stroke with that diet coke? The shocking truth about artificial sweeteners

Stephanie Malouf Nutrition

Answer me this, out of Diet Coke, Coke Zero and Coca Cola, which one do you think is the healthiest option? 

A study released in April this year examined whether sugar or artificially sweetened beverage consumption was associated with an increased risk of stroke, dementia & Alzheimer disease. Their beverage intake was examined using food questionnaires and they were observed for a total of ten years. What the results showed might come as a shock to you…

Artificially sweetened soft drink consumption was associated with a higher risk of stroke, dementia and Alzheimer’s. Sugar sweetened beverages such as fruit juice nor sugar-sweetened soft drink consumption like Coca-cola was not.

Does this finding change your answer to the question?

Shocking right? What's more shocking is that the risk of stroke in those drinking one or more artificially sweetened soft drinks a day was almost tripled! The finding for Alzheimer’s risk was very similar.

This particular study caught my eye because I see so many clients that consume these toxic chemicals on a daily bases and think it's ok because it’s sugar free. I used to be one of those people, addicted to Coke Zero. I have some clients that were drinking up to 3 cans a day before they came to see me. Would you like a stroke with that diet coke?

Other common dietary behaviours of my clients relating to artificial sweeteners include adding Splenda or Equal to their coffee, eating sugar-free lollies or consuming a protein powder that contains Sucralose.

Many of these clients not surprisingly come to me for weight loss however I say to them I don’t care if you don’t lose weight for the next month, your number one focus before anything else is cutting the artificial sweeteners and this study is just one of the reasons why. Ironically, other studies have shown that artificial sweeteners dramatically increase your risk for obesity and diabetes, despite name ‘diet’ or ‘light’ included in the branding. The power of marketing.

The take-away isn’t to switch from Diet Coke to Coca-Cola but to recognise that substituting sugar with ‘fake sugar’ DOES NOT make it a healthier option and in the case of stroke and dementia can be worse. Despite the common perception that 'diet' is better for you. A little bit of sugar here or there won't kill you but too much of ether one may.

The scary truth is that artificial sweeteners have snuck their way into so many products these days so that businesses can keep the sugar content and calorie per serve down on the nutrition panel.

Here is a shortlist of some key words to watch out for on product packages and ingredient lists that are linked to or are a from of artificial sweeteners:

  • Diet
  • Sugar free
  • Low calorie
  • Sucralose
  • Skinny
  • Aspartame
  • Acesulfame potassium
  • Neotame
  • Saccharin

Read the full study here: Sugar- and Artificially Sweetened Beverages and the Risks of Incident Stroke and Dementia: A Prospective Cohort Study.