From My Cold, Dead Hands

by Anne Bennett on May 3, 2009

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People often ask if I think Diet Coke is safe to drink. When I get this question, I assume that they are either suspicious of artificial sweeteners or they’ve been reading internet rumors about aspartame being downright deadly.

Here’s my reply:  I grew up in the 1960’s drinking massive amounts of Diet-Rite Cola, which was sweetened with cyclamates. Yum. The stuff was a dead-ringer for real sugar, and I was a chubby pre-teen in need of a diet-friendly sweet treat. Then in 1969 the FDA banned it because studies indicated that rats fed cyclamates developed bladder cancer. Never mind that they fed the unfortunate rodents the human equivalent of 350 cans of diet soda per day in order to get those results.

As any veteran dieter knows, the next generation of artificial sweeteners was saccharin (AKA the little pink packages of Sweet-N-Low). Coca Cola introduced Tab, so named because it helped people “keep tabs” on their calorie consumption. Saccharin had a bitter aftertaste, and Tab was no exception, but I regularly kept at least a case of the vile stuff stored in my laundry room.

BTW, like the banned cyclamates, saccharin also produced bladder cancer in rats, but the FDA chose not to ban it because, at the time, it was the only approved artificial sweetener used in the US, and the diabetic lobby succeeded in keeping it legal.

Finally, along came aspartame in 1983, and, hallelujah, Diet Coke was born. It was delicious in comparison, and I’ve been drinking it ever since. Is it safe? I don’t know for absolute sure, but everything I’ve read (excluding the internet horror stores that have become urban legends) points to it being safe to drink in moderate amounts. If you want to know some actual facts, it never hurts to go to www.snopes.com.

There is some evidence that consuming artificially sweetened food products may contribute to a sweet-tooth and that diet drinks have not made any dent in the obesity epidemic, but that’s another issue. I’m not advocating drinking Diet Coke for anyone other than myself.

Besides, I figure I must glow in the dark from all the cyclamates I drank back in the 60’s and saccharin in the 70’s, so I may be immune to aspartame. I’ve cleaned up my eating act over the years in so many other ways that I feel pretty self-righteous about my Diet Coke. However, just to be on the safe side, I try to stay below the daily 350 cans that they gave the rats.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

terri May 5, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Is 3 enough is 6 too many. I’ts my only vice, I swear!

son May 7, 2009 at 11:13 am

hmmmm, i think i counted 351 yesterday mom…

Tammy May 7, 2009 at 11:27 pm

Hi Mrs. Bennett,

This is Tammy. You can drink all the diet coke you want. There has been a link between cancer and artificial sweetners in rats. That’s true. However, there has been no proven evidence that artificial sweetners increase risk of cancer in humans. My medical school professors gave us part of talk about this. From what I was told, these studies were pretty solid. Animal studies are not as highly rated as standardized controlled human studies. We also have to keep in mind that risk factors for cancer are not equal across all species.

admin May 8, 2009 at 4:04 pm

Thanks, Tammy. That makes me feel a lot better about my Diet Cokes. I still feel sorry for the rats, though!

Tammy McDonald from Nordstrom May 16, 2009 at 6:19 am

Hi Anne! Your website is incredible. Now that I know what you have to say about Diet Coke…I feel better drinking it…even being prego! Remember, the sale starts Wednesday and that is when I officially have 4 weeks left before Baby Oliver is due! Hope to see you soon.

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