COLUMN: Be cautious about Diet Coke

By Lisa Xia

Every time I go to the bar, my drink order is always the same – rum and diet.

“Rum and diet,” I’ll repeat adamantly, emphasizing the word ‘diet’ because I know otherwise the bartender will make me a rum and Coke.

Regular Coke, with regular sugar is BAD.

I’ve got proof.

I found a Web site dedicated to the evils of sugar entitled “146 reasons why sugar is ruining your health.” I’ve grown fairly confident that my split-ends formed because a deaf bartender mixed my Bacardi with regular soda.

The diet cola industry is booming these days with Beverage Digest, an industry newsletter, predicting sales to trump those of regular soda by 2016. For an industry worth $65.9 billion, that’s a loaded statement.

But is diet better?

In a society of quick-fixes and fad-diets that will disappear faster than skinny jeans, it is not altogether surprising that sugar has been targeted as the next big culprit. The Atkins diet, after all, praised the proteins, condemned the carbs and named processed sugar the evil leader.

Then again, the Atkins empire declared bankruptcy and its guru is dead.

Diet sodas have been around since the 1970s, when saccharin and cyclamates reigned high. Both got linked to cancer, however, and only saccharin survived, its FDA suspension lifted but its reputation forever tarnished.

Nowadays, Aspartame (NutraSweet), sucralose (Splenda) and acesulfame potassium (something I can barely pronounce in Sugarfree Red Bull) rule.

The Budweiser of the U.S. fake-sugar industry – aspartame – is taking the most heat.

Researchers cannot seem to decide whether consuming it leads to cancer (although, in the 21st century, cancer is virtually a side-effect of breathing).

A recent study on rats shows that a 9-to-12-Diet-Coke-a-day habit can make you more prone to cancer. There are also people who claim aspartame triggers disorders like grand mal seizures or allergic reactions.

Safety aside, there is another reason I think twice about my signature drink (other than Mama’s wisdom that you shouldn’t eat what you can’t spell).

Diet soda, apparently, makes you fat.

A recent Texas study correlated the risk of obesity with diet drinks. The conclusion: for every drink consumed is a 41 percent risk increase of being overweight.

Why?

Maybe, some studies claim, ingesting fake sweeteners whets cravings for calories more than sugar does.

Maybe the people who decide to restrict themselves to Diet Sprite applaud their healthy resolve with Pokey Stix.

The fact is, unless artificial sweeteners somehow gain the power to vaporize people, as long as 66 percent of us are overweight, we will continue consuming.

It becomes an individual choice about whether we want to risk getting fat via excess sugar or via sugar substitutes.

My solution: just drink water.