Diabetic? Why You Should Avoid Diet Drinksby Mary Shomon Patient Advocate
If you have diabetes, you may think it's healthier to choose a diet drink or an artificial sweetener. It’s time to rethink your choices. Diet drinks and artificial sweeteners pose many health risks to people with diabetes. Let's take a look at the latest research.
Risk: Vision Loss
A 2018 study found that drinking only four or more cans of a diet soft drink per week more than doubles your risk of proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR). PDR is an eye-related complication of diabetes. In PDR, abnormal blood vessels develop in the eye and increase your risk of vision loss and blindness.
Risk: Impaired Glucose Tolerance
Drinking diet soda every day is associated with a 36 percent increased risk of metabolic syndrome and glucose intolerance. These conditions make your body less effective at releasing and responding to insulin. That means it’s harder to manage your blood sugar.
Risk: Increased Blood Sugar Levels
Like many people with diabetes, you may believe that artificial sweeteners can't raise your blood sugar. But some studies have shown that the artificial sweetener aspartame actually increases blood sugar and insulin levels at similar rates to regular sugar. More research is needed to look at whether other artificial sweeteners have the same effect.
Risk: Eating More Calories
Controlling weight is already an issue for many people with diabetes. A 2014 study reported that people who were overweight and drank diet sodas ate between 90 and 200 more calories from food per day. The theory is that you don't get enough reward from artificial sweeteners, which leads to overeating calorie-rich and sweet foods.
Risk: Stroke and Heart Disease
Patients with diabetes already face an increased risk of stroke and heart disease. Artificial sweeteners deal an added blow. An American Heart Association/American Stroke Association study found that drinking two or more artificially sweetened beverages per day increases the risk of stroke by 23 percent, and heart disease by 29 percent.
Depression is already more common in people with diabetes. Diet drinks make it worse. Research has found that drinking four or more cans of diet soda per day makes you 30 percent more likely to be diagnosed with depression.
Risk: Gut Bacteria Imbalances
A healthy balance of gut bacteria is essential to metabolic and immune health. Research shows that drinking diet soda changes the composition and behavior of your intestinal bacteria. Bacterial imbalances can contribute to metabolic syndrome, glucose intolerance, and inflammation. These conditions make diabetes treatment harder.
Risk: Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes
What About Stevia?
The four most commonly used artificial sweeteners – and the ones most often used to sweeten in diet drinks – are aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), sucralose (Splenda), saccharin (Sweet 'N Low), and acesulfame K. While research has focused primarily on these chemical sweeteners, some experts theorize that as a non-caloric sweetener, stevia may share many of the same risks and downsides.