Are Diet Sodas & Artificial Sweeteners really bad for you?



Should you be drinking this?

Should you be drinking this?


I have a vivid memory of a moment that occurred 5 years ago.

I was driving home from Albertsons happily sipping on a Diet Coke that I had purchased in the checkout line. Mmmm, Diet Coke sure does taste good, I thought as I zipped along Butterfield Ranch Rd. Then a dark thought entered my mind.

What if this bubbly drink that I loved so much really caused cancer like the health nuts said? I looked down at the plastic bottle in my hand. It looked harmless enough, and that unbelievable taste – how could it be bad? But a part of me wasn’t fully convinced.

Then, in a whoosh, I had an epiphany.

There was no way that Diet Coke caused cancer. The government wouldn’t allow them to sell a product that promoted cancer without clearly informing consumers.

Ahhhhh, I was safe. I took another long sip of the exonerated liquid and embraced the cuddly warmth of the FDA security blanket. It sure felt great to be a protected American citizen.

Boy, was I naïve.

If you’ve watched Food Inc, read The China Study, or just generally had your ears open over the last few years then my blind faith in the FDA probably had you chuckling. And rightfully so.

Here are some eye-opening quotes about artificial sweeteners:

Aspartame (AKA: NutraSweet or Equal):

  • “Aspartame is a compound made from three components: phenylalanine (an amino acid), aspartic acid (an excitotoxic amino acid), and joined chemically by methanol, a toxic alcohol. When consumed, aspartame is metabolically broken down into its three component parts—all three of which are toxic to the nervous system as well as to all cells. In addition, further metabolism occurs producing dozens of other potentially toxic compounds and even carcinogenic compounds.” Death by Supermarket, pg 52.


  • “Three new studies have shown that the methanol component is metabolically converted into formaldehyde and formic acid, both powerful toxins, even in very small doses. Formic acid is the toxin that causes the intensely painful bite of the fire ant and blindness when methanol is ingested in sufficient quantities. Formaldehyde is known to be a powerful cancer-causing agent, even in very small doses. In one of these studies it was shown that aspartame’s formaldehyde accumulates near the DNA of cells, severely damaging this critical cell component. This can lead to neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.” Death by Supermarket, pg 52.


  • “Since the introduction of aspartame in the med 1970s, the incidence of brain tumors has risen exponentially. Evidence indicates that one particular type of brain tumor, primary lymphoma of the brain, may be associated with aspartame use. According to Dr. Blaylock, “It is a particularly nasty tumor with a high mortality rate.” Death by Supermarket, pg 55.


  • “When aspartame was put before the FDA for approval, it was denied eight times. G.D. Searle, founder of aspartame, tried to get FDA approval in 1973. Clearly, he wasn’t bothered by reports from neuroscientist Dr. John Olney and researcher Ann Reynolds (hired by Searle himself) that aspartame was dangerous. Dr. Martha Freeman, a scientist from the FDA Division of Metabolic and Endocrine Drug Products, declared, “The information submitted for review is inadequate to permit a scientific evaluation of clinical safety.” Freeman recommended that until the safety of aspartame was proven, marketing the product should not be permitted. Alas, her recommendations were ignored. Somehow, in 1974, Searle got approval to use aspartame in dry foods. However, it wasn’t smooth sailing from there. In 1975, the FDA put together a task force to review Searle’s testing methods. Task force Team leader Phillip Brodsky said he “had never seen anything as bad as Searle’s testing” and called test results “manipulated.” Before aspartame actually made it into dry foods, Olney and attorney and consumer advocate Jim Turner filed objections against the approval.” Skinny Bitch, pg 32.


  • “Splenda is made by chlorinating sugar, changing its molecular structure. The finished product is called sucralose. The makers of this poison tout its lack of calories and claim it’s safe for diabetics. The FDA calls sucralose 98 percent pure. The other 2 percent contains small amounts of heavy metals, methanol, and arsenic. Well, gee, at least it doesn’t have calories. So what if it has a little arsenic? Sucralose has been found to cause diarrhea; organ, genetic, immune system, and reproductive damage; swelling of the liver and kidneys; and a decrease in fetal body weight.” Skinny Bitch, pg 35.


  • “Not only have multiple class action lawsuits been filed, but even the president of the National Sugar Association and the manufacturer of Equal are up in arms about Splenda. They each filed suit, claiming that Splenda manufacturers are misleading consumers into thinking the product is natural when it is ‘a highly processed chemical compound.’“ Skinny Bitch, pg 36.

Saccharin (Sweet & Low):

  • “Saccharin is a coal-tar compound.” Skinny Bitch, pg 35.

I hope these quotes will make you think twice about popping open a can of diet soda, I know I’ve been changed.

Don’t get me wrong, I still crave Diet Coke whenever I bite into a veggie burger, but in those moments I just think formaldehyde, and the urge passes. (If you’ve spent any time in an anatomy lab, you’ll remember the nauseating smell of formaldehyde, used to preserve the cadavers.)

Repeat after me, “Diet Soda = Formaldehyde”

And I don’t know about you, but I ain’t dead yet.


  • Bedros Keuilian November 19, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    Di, awesome post. And thank you for helping me change my diet and crappy eating habits 🙂


  • Nancy Deville November 20, 2009 at 9:21 am

    You should also know that formaldehyde degrades cellular structures, for example collagen which is that nice plump structure that keeps your skin looking taut and pretty. As collagen degrades cellulite takes it’s place, lumpy blobs of fat. So if you want to be soft, jiggly, and lumpy, drink Diet Coke. Ever noticed that thin people don’t drink Diet drinks?
    Best wishes for your good health,
    Nancy Deville
    Author Death by Supermarket

  • John E. Garst, Ph.D. November 20, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    Diana you need to stop relying on the antiaspartame conspiracy theorists for their arguments and get your facts straight . Aspartame is perfectly safe used as directed in healthy people.

    First, there is no viable case for any toxicity issue with formaldehyde produced endogenously by methyl hydroxylation followed generally by chemical demethylation of many N-, O-, or S-methylated substances (including methanol, HOCH3) for a whole host of reasons, including but not limited to the fact that it doesn’t exist as formaldehyde in water but rather as dihydroxymethane, it reacts with and is oxidized to formate by natural protective substances that are in far greater concentrations, and it has a natural role in the biosynthesis of methylated lysine derivatives for substances like carnitine. That has been demonstrated by numerous papers and analyses over decades. Realize, however, that inhaled formaldehyde presents a different story in model animals (whose nose is exposed to high doses), but even then there is no good data to suggest it has any human consequences. Here is why: gaseous formaldehyde simply cannot achieve the doses where such issues develop, because no human can tolerate the stench of formaldehyde long before that problem dose is reached.

    Second, the essential paradigm of toxicology is that everything is a poison and nothing is non-toxic. But, it is only the dose of a substance that delineates a pharmacological drug from a lethal poison. Consequently, it is pure non-sense to call anything a poison without defining that associated dose. By way of examples consider water, cyanide, and botulinum toxin. Realize, it is the water overdose alone that drowns, yet it is because of cyanide’s low dose that the natural, food-borne cyanide we all ingest doesn’t kill you. Similarly, botulinum toxin is one of the most lethal substances known. Yet with judicious control of dose, it can and frequently is used to deaden problem nerves in cosmetic procedures. Dose makes the poison. The word poison means nothing without dose.

    When you suggest or imply that methanol or formaldehyde are poisons, you need to realize too that low and continually injested amounts of methanol (formaldehyde) are vital to supply the folate enzyme system with formate precursor for it to convert into methyl groups to detoxify the serious excitotoxin homocysteine into methionine and uracil into thymine, before the former can enter DNA and cause it to become breakable. Aspartame provides not only a source of this methanol and formate, but actually through these mechanisms serves to protect against disease. But a good percentage of the population are deficient in folate, have enzyme differences that worsen that deficiency (called polymorphims) or have high homocysteine through these or related issues. Those factors, not aspartame, are responsible for all adverse reactions to aspartame and those factors are also responsible for 90+ diseases attrributed by ignorant critics to aspartame. For example one breast cancer study “suggest[s] that moderate folate deficiency has a stronger effect on chromosomal instability than BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations found in breast cancer families”, see

    John E. Garst, Ph.D. (Medicinal Chemistry, Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Nutrition)

    (FYI, the author has absolutely no financial or biasing connection with the aspartame, the soft drink or their related industries. The author has a Ph.D. in Medicinal Chemistry (Pharmacy) from the University of Iowa, postdoctoral experience at Yale University (Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry) and at Vanderbilt University and taught nutritional toxicology at the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana) besides having conducted federally funded research at Vanderbilt, UIUC, and at several other universities before recently entering into retirement.)

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