That’s what diet drinks like Diet Coke & Co do to your body

Dietary drinks such as Coke Zero or Cola Light have become part of everyday life for many people. After all, it’s healthier than regular cola with sugar, isn’t it? Yes and no, because the light versions form a kind of grey area: no one really knows whether the sugar-rich drink or the one with a lot of additives is better or worse.

Some despise the supposed diet drinks as artificial chemical bombs, while others are fans of calorie- and sugar-free enjoyment. So who is right? Difficult question that needs to be clarified.

Despite the debates, light drinks are everywhere. They appear in connection with the most varied forms of nutrition – this can be observed above all on Instagram. They are also popular in the fitness scene. Sports-minded women in particular often and gladly choose the light version because they have completely eliminated sugar from their diet and quickly sizzle a light drink to soothe their appetite for sweets. A misconception, as will be shown.

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Everyone loves light drinks – for this reason!

Why are light drinks so successful at all? Jane Ogden, Professor of Health Psychology at the University of Surrey in Guildford (England), explains this with a deep-seated attitude to life:

Softdrinks werden gerne und häufig getrunken Sugarfree soft drinks contain no sugar and no calories. © Africa Studio /

“Many people are on permanent diets. For them, it means being slim and in control.” Whether they have a six-pack or still dream of it, who doesn’t strive to keep body fat down and be slim? This is where the advertising slogan of light drinks comes in, because the label and the advertising promise that the content is healthy and makes you slim. The lousy press about sugar in recent years has done the rest. So it is no wonder that so many people are turning to “light”. But that can be a mistake.

Do light drinks make you fat?

The advertising messages convey pleasure without regrets, without calories and without being overweight. The Weight Watchers Light-Cola, for example, also has 0 points in the category 0 – so it can be enjoyed without restrictions. However, studies prove something completely different.

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A study published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” recently examined the effect of soft drinks on body weight: participants who consumed one litre of a sugary soft drink a day gained around 10 kilos within 6 months. So it is certainly not recommended.

In comparison, test persons who consumed a carbonated diet drink instead gained only 1.5 kilos. But wait a minute: Why do the test persons from the control group gain weight at all if light drinks have no calories? The study situation regarding sweeteners is delicate and the subject has not yet been conclusively researched, but it is considered safe:

The consumption of artificial substances triggers a number of biochemical processes in the body and can make it more susceptible to obesity.

Sind Light-Getränke gesünder? Are light drinks really healthier than normal soft drinks? © Jacob Lund /

“The people with the light drinks gained weight not because they had consumed more calories, but because their insulin levels had risen,” explains Robert Lustig, anti-sugar activist and professor of endocrinology at US -University of California at Oakland. “The more insulin in your blood, the more sugar is stored in your cells as fat.” The hormone insulin transports sugar into the cells where it is either converted into energy or stored as fat.

This triggers a sequence of reactions that can result in an excessive intake of calories.

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Do light drinks increase the insulin level?

Why does the body release insulin at all if the drinks contain no sugar? There is also a study on this, the results of which are published in the US -Diabetes Care” journal have been published. One group of participants drank an alcohol- and calorie-free drink, the other group did not drink anything at all. Afterwards, glucose and insulin levels were measured in all participants. It was found that the group with the drinks had 20 percent more insulin in their blood than the control group.

Why was that? Because the drink makes the body believe that there is sugar to be processed immediately.

Soft-Drinks enthalten viel Zucker It is not only sugar that causes the body to release insulin. © Nevodka /

When the sweet stimulus hits the tongue, specific receptors are activated. “These first send a message to the brain that sugar is flowing in,” says expert Lustig. “The brain then signals the pancreas to get ready for the sugar, i.e. to release insulin to transport the glucose into the cells.” All this happens even though not the tiniest molecule of sugar has passed through the mouth. The result: Hunger! And what you eat as a result may cause you to gain weight.

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Sweeteners trigger ravenous appetite in the brain because it waits for sugar by a sweet stimulus. If the sugar is missing, the brain is confused and cannot interpret the information. If this happens frequently, it interprets the process as a nutrient crisis and demands more food.

Light drinks strain the taste buds

The sweetening power of sweeteners is many times higher than that of sugar. Of the 11 in the EU approved sweeteners, cyclamate is about 30 to 50 times sweeter than sugar – and yet of these, it is the least sweetening. At the other end of the scale, advantam, which will not be approved until 2014, is 20,000 to 37,000 times sweeter. Accordingly, food contains correspondingly small amounts of it, yet many of them taste extremely sweet.

Süßstoffe verwirren unsere Geschmacksnerven Sweeteners confuse our taste buds – and make you less sensitive to sweet things. © sergey causelove /

Sweeteners have a very aggressive effect on the taste receptors, especially in people who completely avoid sugar. “It can have consequences if you drink artificially sweetened drinks without eating real sugar,” says Lustig. The point of a sugar-free lifestyle is actually to become more sensitive to sweet foods.

If you regularly drink artificially sweetened drinks, your taste buds will be so overstrained that other naturally sweet tasting foods will no longer be perceived as sweet.

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Surveys of people who do without both sugar and sweeteners show that their taste buds have regenerated so much that they even find a bitter-sour grapefruit sweet again. The best thing about it is that this process of adaptation begins after only 2 to 3 weeks of abstinence from sweeteners.

Do sweeteners make you sick?

Foodstuffs that are not safe are not permitted in Germany. Nevertheless there is a lack of long-term studies. What effects sweeteners have on the body has still not been conclusively clarified. The most common assumptions:

Wie gesund sind Light-Getränke? Can light drinks cause diseases? © Tirachard Kumtanom / How useful are detox teas?

  1. Increased risk of cancer and stroke One study looked at the possible links between artificial sweeteners and various disease risks, such as an increased risk of strokes and cancer. However, the authors of the study clearly emphasise that cause and effect cannot be clearly linked. Further research is needed.
  2. tumor formation : It is also still no more than a suggestion that aspartame may cause cancer. In mice, the sweetener accelerated tumor growth.

    Background: Degradation products of aspartame are the carcinogenic substances methanol and formaldehyde. Does this also apply to humans? It is unclear.

  3. Change in the intestinal bacteria: Sweeteners are also said to have a negative influence on the intestinal flora by acting on microorganisms. There they are involved in digestion and break down carbohydrates. It is suspected that sweeteners promote the spread of microorganisms. This would accelerate the absorption of sugar into the body.

    For scientists, the connection sounds quite plausible. However, the results obtained in mice have not yet been confirmed in humans.

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The fact is: Soda with sweetener makes you less fat than those containing sugar – but it is not weight-neutral. Sugar-free drinks like water or tea are still the best. But: If you don’t overdo it, a cola is okay from time to time – sugar or no sweetener.

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