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Diet drinks are a nutritious pariah, but the case against them is thin

Comment by Tamar Haspel

The nutrition community does not like diet soda. Of all the groups that make dietary recommendations, I cannot find one that allows full-fledged support.

"Restricting low calorie calories," says the American Heart Association and "stick to water". The Center for Science of Public Interest says it is "best to avoid" artificial sweeteners. The Canadian diet guidelines discourage them. The American diet is definitely meh.

Although added sugar is a top health problem, diet soda meets consistently with something between mistrust and hostility.

Dig into the survey, and you won't find a lot of subject. The hostility-to-proof relationship is far from whack. What gives?

I'll try to answer that, but we have to start with what is probably the most important thing to know about low calorie calories: You consume them in very small quantities.

Take sucralose, ingredient in Splenda. The FDA has determined that the acceptable daily intake (which it derives by determining safe level and dividing by 1

00) is 5 milligrams per kg body weight. If you weigh 150 pounds, it means you can eat 340 milligrams, the amount in 28 packs of Splenda each day.

The key figure is 340 milligrams – about one third of a gram. If it were sugar it would be one third of a quarter teaspoon.

That doesn't mean it's harmless.

"There are things that small amounts will kill you," says Alice Lichtenstein, nutritionist science and politics at Tufts University's Friedman Public Health School and co-author of the American Heart Association's position on low calorie calories, "but we calculate it quite quickly. "

Of course, it can hurt you without killing you, and we really can't rule out damage from chronic exposure at low exposure.

But one of the things that makes it less likely is that we eat a mixture of low-calibrated sweeteners (LCS) with different risks

"Chemically, they are completely different," says Lichtenstein, but when we talk about them " whole class of associations ".

The bad rape began with studies in the 1970s that linked saccharin to bladder cancer. But it turned out that the mechanism was not relevant to humans, and subsequent studies cleared it.

But there is also concern about what happens when your body experiences the connection between trying something sweet but not taking in calories.

The latest literature is filled with laundry lists of similar risks, from Professor of Medicine in Christopher Gardner, Stanford, and also co-author of the American Heart Association: "Promote a taste preference for sweet foods and beverages that naturally make-sweetened foods less appealing, negative change in feelings of hunger and fullness, reduced awareness of calorie intake, negative change of gut microbiota, increase in glucose intolerance, replacement of healthier drinks, contributing to the perception that individuals can consume more calories from other foods and contribute to the possible ingestion of other ingredients in LCS drinks that may be of interest, such as caffeine and arti


I asked him about these dangers, and the first thing he said was "none of them proved."

Then he added : "It's all likely."

When I told him my reading was that the evidence was virtually obscene intact, he nodded sharply.

Gardner was particularly dismissive of the idea that small quantities of anything could touch your intestinal microbiome.

"We pummel people with fiber to try and move the microbiome," he said. It is not easy, and the research on probiotics, which is intended to alter your gut bacteria, indicates that it is difficult to do even when you try. Nevertheless, the intestinal microbiome has become a conspiracy theory of nutrition: It seems to be where people go to prove something is dangerous when there really is no evidence that it is.

In fact, gut bacteria are probably the most common I hear if I could find exactly one study on that in humans, and that was an afterthought thanked for a mouse study. In it, seven people were fed saccharin for one week. Four of them had "poorer glycemic reactions". The rest of the research was on mice. Or sometimes rats. And if you take a lot of mice that are genetically very similar, make sure they don't have any gut bacteria to begin with and feed them different things. You will see different results because there is no sound to compete with what can be a very, very small signal. In human intestines, it is chaos, and changes must be very powerful in order to be meaningful.

Nevertheless, Gardner for LCSs is "just like a gateway drug to water".

But if there is any evidence that they can help at least a little with weight loss, and evidence of injury is virtually non-existent, why oppose them?

"Because they're just in shit."

In a nutshell, this is hostility.

Low calorie sweeteners represent almost everything that is wrong with our diet. They are mostly synthetic. They play for the human preference for sweetness, which manufacturers use to sell us more, and then more again. A good part of the research is industry-sponsored. And they are mostly in highly processed foods – or, as Gardner says, "shit".

That's what we shouldn't eat.

We should eat food, not too much, mostly plants. We will make it home-cooked meals, with which we drink water.

I'm on board! I am properly into refined food-causing-obesity camp. But how much the Americans are from these goals, should we let the enemy be perfectly okay?

Not everyone wants water to drink. Some want to drink soda. But the attitude of the nutrition community is not just that you should not drink soda – regular or diet – that is, you do not even want to drink soda. It is puritanical, holier than you and deterrent discouraging.

Take the latest meta-analysis, published in the British Medical Journal.

"There was no compelling evidence" for benefits, the article says but "potential damage … could not be excluded." Why not the other way around? If there is no convincing evidence of damage and benefits cannot be ruled out, send the diet rotor.

"It's like caffeine," says Lichtenstein. "Everyone wants to find something wrong with it."

If you do, click on over to PubMed, scientific newspaper stores and watch. Check out the research on humans. Ignore anything industry-sponsored. You will find many lists of potential injuries, but once you speculate and focus on evidence, you won't find scary.

But you know what's scary? Our overweight epidemic, and the grant from soda. These sugar calories seem particularly dirty, because they go easy and don't make us feel full.

It's not a no-brainer. Sugar consumption has fallen since 1999, while obesity has only increased. When we look at population research on LCS users, they tend to weigh more and generally have poorer health outcomes, so this is not a panacea. (The fact that responsible authorities have discouraged LCS use may also mean that people who are generally healthy and have good habits do not use them.)

But when looking at clinical trials, people tend to consume fewer calories when given an LCS instead of sugar and over time they lose some weight. Not much, but name another obesity intervention that is even moderately successful. If the nutritional community embraces low-calorie sweeteners, people who want to lose weight to make the switch and warn against compensating, Chunky Monkey says, are hard to see the downside.

There is evidence of the upside in the National Weight Control Register, which tracks people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept them off for at least one year. Only 10% report that they drink sugar-sweetened drinks "regularly," while 53% drink diets. Compare it to the population as a whole, of which 61% report drinking a sugar sweetened drink on a given day, while only 15% report drinking a diet version. Light calorie sweeteners definitely help at least some people.

I am undoubtedly biased because I am one of them.

I never drink whole sugar soda and I use sucralose in my smoothies and oatmeal. I've been overweight, and if I'm not constantly vigilant, the number on the scale will start to push up again. Weight loss is difficult, and I know I'm not the only one who needs all the help she can get.

Tamar Haspel writes Unearthed, a monthly commentary in the quest for a more constructive conversation on split food policy issues. She grows oysters on Cape Cod.

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