I thought I was being healthy by drinking a lot of diet soda instead of regular soda, but then my friend told me that the sweeteners in diet soda are ALSO bad for me! Is that true? Do I have to stop drinking diet soda, too??

Good question! You’re definitely not the only person confused about how healthy artificial sweeteners (like those in diet sodas) are. But first, it’s great that you’ve decided to cut regular soda out of your diet!  A regular can of Coke contains over 9 spoonfuls of added sugar. That’s a lot, and it can have a serious effect on your health if you drink them regularly.

To give you some background, artificial sweeteners like those in diet soda are also called high-intensity sweeteners. They include brands like Splenda, Sweet’ N Low, Equal and Stevia. Artificial sweeteners are at least 100 times sweeter than natural sugar. This means you only need a little bit to satisfy your sweet tooth. For example, a can of Arizona Iced Tea with Lemon Flavor has 270 calories and almost 6 spoonfuls of sugar, while the diet version has 0 calories and no sugar. Because of this, some people use artificial sweeteners to avoid the negative health effects of added sugar, like weight gain and an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Generally, artificial sweeteners are considered safe. The FDA, American Diabetes Association and American Heart Association have all cautiously approved using artificial sweeteners to help reduce how much added sugar we consume.

However, there’s a lot of conflicting info out there about how artificial sweeteners affect your long-term health. In fact, even doctors aren’t 100% sure about the long-term effects of consuming artificial sweeteners. Some research shows that artificial sweeteners may have some of the same effects on your health as added sugar, like weight gain. Other studies suggest that artificial sweeteners might make you crave sugary foods. This is because artificial sweeteners make your body think that you’re about to eat something sweet, and begins preparing for sugar to enter your bloodstream. When your body doesn’t get that sugar, you may end up craving a sweet snack or drink.

What this all means is that we’re just not sure whether artificial sweeteners are unhealthy, or just how unhealthy they may be. More research needs to be done. In the meantime, consider making diet soda a treat rather than a daily habit. Instead, drink some unsweetened tea, water, low-fat milk, or fruit-infused water.

If you live near NYC and have more questions about how to be your healthiest self, stop by Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. We provide free, comprehensive health care to 10-22 year olds. This means you can get a physical with an adolescent health specialist, chat with a nutritionist, or join our Teen Fit program!