“Diet Drink Dilemma”

Diet beverages are marketed as healthier, less harmful alternatives to their sugary soda counterparts. People drink diet sodas to help cut calories and to avoid the well-known downsides of too much real sugar. Soda is one of the most demonized junk foods in the United States, topping just about every list of things to avoid for a healthier life. But are these “healthier” alternatives really all they’re advertised to be? Sugary sodas are among the most aggressively marketed beverage products on the planet. Coke and Pepsi, for example, together spent about half a billion dollars to advertise their namesake products to US consumers in 2019. In 2020, the average American will drink about 149 liters of carbonated soft drinks—that’s nearly 40 gallons. Such high levels of consumption earned soda companies $133.7 billion, or an average of $404 from every US consumer in 2019. However, an excess of sugar-sweetened beverages can wreak havoc on health, and lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, gout, decreased bone health, and cavities, among other ill effects. Six sugar substitutes are included on the FDA’s Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list, and approved for use in food: aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, neotame, advantame, and acesulfame potassium-k. The plant-derived sweetener stevia gets mixed reviews from the FDA. But are the artificially sweetened drinks safe?

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