Aspartame is put in fizzy products such as Coke, Pepsi and 7UP
Study claims some drinks containing it linked to illness
By FIONA MACRAE
Sweeteners used in diet drinks to help weight loss can be just as harmful as full-sugar versions, a food expert has warned.
Aspartame is put in fizzy products such as Coke, Pepsi, 7UP and Sprite as a healthier option.
But a study claims that some drinks containing the ingredient are linked to weight-gain, diabetes and heart disease – with just one can a day said to increase risks of high blood pressure.
Professor Susan Swithers said that it was not uncommon for people to be given messages that artificially-sweetened products are healthy.
But she claimed: ‘The data to support those claims is not very strong, and although it seems like common sense that diet sodas would not be as problematic as regular sodas, common sense is not always right.’
Professor Swithers, of Purdue University in Indiana, US, claims that one possible explanation is that having a low-calorie drink or two is treated as a licence to over-indulge in fatty or sugary snacks.
Another is that artificial sweeteners fail to trigger the brain regions and hormones that tell us we are full and so we eat more.
The drinks may also double the odds of developing metabolic syndrome – a cluster of symptoms that greatly increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Writing in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, she said: ‘The current public health message to limit the intake of sugar needs to be expanded to limit intake of all sweeteners, not just sugars.’
But British experts said that diet drinks do no harm.
Sue Baic, of the British Dietetic Association, said: ‘There is a large body of evidence that shows that diet drinks can be really useful.’
Gavin Partington, of the British Soft Drinks Association, said that the professor had produced an opinion piece that ‘runs contrary to decades of scientific research’.