Diet Coke Addiction

“I drink it like water – do you think I am addicted to diet coke?  Is it an issue if I drink around 10+ cans per day?” – Anonymous NxJ’er

Drinking 10+ cans per day is problematic.  Not to fear, Gautam Arora kicked his “coke addiction,” and so can you.  Let’s strip down all of Diet Coke’s ingredients so that you can determine whether or not you’d like to keep on drinking 10+ cans per day.  The following ingredients are listed in descending order on a can of diet coke:

Carbonated water, Caramel Color, Aspartame, Phosphoric acid, Potassium benzoate (to protect taste), Natural flavors, Citric acid, Caffeine

And the commentary …

Carbonated water: this is the main ingredient, made by adding carbon dioxide to water.  Consuming 10+ cans could be a problem if you are burping all day.  Burping will send stomach acid to the esophagus, which over time, will put you at risk to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).  GERD can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is the muscular sphincter that closes off the bottom of your esophagus in order to keep stomach contents INSIDE of the stomach.  Having stomach acid rise up into the esophagus over time can damage the lower esophagus and put you at risk for esophageal cancer.  Easy check: are you burping everyday, where you feel contents from the stomach reaching all the way up into your mouth?  If so, it’s probably a good idea to cut back on the diet coke.

Caramel Color: Caramel color is made synthetically with heat treatment of dextrose (corn sugar), invert sugar, lactose (milk sugar), malt syrup (usually from barley malt), molasses (from cane), starch hydrolysis (can include wheat) or sucrose (cane or beet).  Those with a gluten intolerance might have a problem digesting caramel color since starch hydrolysis includes wheat.

Aspartame: Aspartame is the nonnutritive sweetener added to Diet Coke.  The acceptable daily intake (ADI) is a measure of a certain substance — in this case, aspartame– that a person can consume everyday over an entire lifetime without any appreciable health risk.  Aspartame has an ADI of 50mg per kilogram of body weight.  Let’s say for argument’s sake you are a male that weighs 150 lbs.  The upper limit of aspartame you would want to ingest per day would be: 3,409mg.  One 12-ounce soda contains about 225mg of aspartame.  At 2,250mg of aspartame per day (10 cans), you are technically consuming less than the ADI, but as you mentioned, you are consuming more than this amount.  You might be hitting unsafe levels on some days of the week.  Plus, the verdict on aspartame’s safety is still equivocal, and requires more longitudinal research.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) published their list on chemical safety, and sadly, aspartame did not make the cut.

Phosphoric acid: although phosphorus is an important mineral in the bone, excessive phosphoric acid in relation to dietary calcium intake could leech calcium from the bone.  Phosphoric acid is present in all colas, whether the cola is diet or regular.  Easy fix: take your calcium (1000-1200mg/day) and vitamin D supplement (1000-2000 IUs per day).  Rethink 10+ cans: it is a disproportionate amount of phosphoric acid:calcium per day and would require increased intake of calcium and D.

Potassium benzoate (to protect taste): considered safe.

Natural flavors: beats me. I challenge you to find what these “secret ingredients” are… And when you do, please let me know. (Although something tells me I do not want to know).

Citric acid: considered safe.

Caffeine: there is 46mg caffeine per 12oz can.  You might feel a wave of energy from the 10 cans you are consuming and therefore, feel “addicted.”   If you are consuming 10 cans, you are consuming the equivalent of 3-4 cups coffee per day (one cup of coffee has anywhere between 90-150mg of caffeine).  That amount is considered safe.  But high amounts of caffeine everyday have been known to interfere with calcium absorption. In a Tufts study, both caffeinated and non-caffeinated colas were associated with lower bone density. Caffeinated drinks appeared to do more damage.

If you’re interested in finding out how many cups of caffeine per day will kill you (literally) this is an interesting website: http://www.energyfiend.com/death-by-caffeine.

Take away points:

1. You might be displacing important nutrients and micronutrients by your intake of 10+ cans per day. By drinking diet coke, you are less likely to drink something more healthy (like water!)  The calcium depletion might also be due to displacement of other calcium-rich beverages, such as milk.

2. If you burp often, you could be drinking too many carbonated beverages that could lead to GERD.

3. You should not drink diet coke if you have celiac disease or low bone density.

4. Aspartame has not been fully cleared by all scientific bodies and evidence is still equivocal.

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