By Dr. Mercola
Low- or no-calorie artificial sweeteners such as aspartame are typically used to sweeten so-called “diet” foods and beverages in lieu of calorie-rich sugar or high fructose corn syrup. The idea is that consuming fewer calories will result in weight loss. However, research has firmly refuted such claims, showing that artificial sweeteners actually produce the complete opposite effect.
By lowering appetite suppressant chemicals and encouraging sugar cravings, artificial sweeteners actually raise your odds of weight gain. Studies have also shown artificial sweeteners promote insulin resistance and related health problems just like regular sugar does, so claims that “diet” soda and snacks are a safe and healthy option for diabetics are false as well.
Use of the Word ‘Diet’ Is Deceptive, False and Misleading
False advertising is prohibited by federal law, and the term “diet” is only permitted on brands or labels when it is not false or misleading. Two years ago — in light of the overwhelming amount of research demonstrating that artificially sweeteners actually raise your risk of obesity rather than combat it — the consumer group U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) asked the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc. and other companies for false advertising.
In its citizen petition to the FDA, USRTK asked the agency to issue warning letters to Coca-Cola and Pepsi for misbranding their beverages, as use of the term “diet” is false and misleading. July 1, 2015, USRTK sent another letter to the FDA, urging the agency to stop Coca-Cola Co. from making “illegal claims that its artificially sweetened sodas prevent, mitigate or treat obesity.”
In one instance, Coca-Cola Co. had announced that its No. 1 “global commitment to fighting obesity” is to “offer low- or no-calorie beverage options in every market.” If artificially sweetened beverages promote obesity rather than fight it, then Coca-Cola’s commitment is merely worsening the problem. It’s also unsupported by a large body of science.
As noted by Gary Ruskin, codirector of USRTK, at the time, “Coke is gulling consumers into believing that artificially sweetened soda is a treatment for obesity. Coke is wrong on the facts and the FDA should stop them if they are on the wrong side of the law.”
One of the Biggest Consumer Scams in Last 50 Years
For those of you who recall these events and wondered what ever came of it, I can now offer you an important and interesting update. October 16, three separate class-action lawsuits were filed against Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo, Dr Pepper Snapple Group and Dr Pepper/Seven Up Inc., all of whom make and sell “diet” beverages sweetened with aspartame.
As reported by CBS News, “The suits allege that the companies’ use of the word ‘diet’ in the beverages’ ‘false misleading and unlawful’ marketing could make a ‘reasonable consumer’ think the drinks are a diet aid.” According to attorney Abraham Melamed:
“What’s been going on is clearly deceptive advertising. In our opinion, it’s one of the biggest consumer scams in the last 50 years, and it has to stop. There’s a strong sense of urgency because there are hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of consumers out there that are being deceived on a daily basis.”
According to the complaints, the beverage makers should be aware of the published evidence against aspartame, which proves the artificial sweetener actually worsens obesity and related health problems. With this knowledge, it stands to reason that continuing to promote no- or low-calorie beverages as “diet” products is a willfully deceptive act aimed to deceive people who want to manage their weight.
The class-action lawsuits also charge the beverage makers with violating FDA and New York state food labeling rules, both of which explicitly prohibit labeling that is “false or misleading in any particular.” As one would expect, the companies that have issued public responses to the allegations have all rejected the lawsuits as “meritless” and vow to “vigorously defend” themselves.
Named Plaintiffs Feel Duped and Misled
The named plaintiffs in each complaint — two per lawsuit — report struggling with obesity for many years and “frequently” buying diet sodas, believing this would “contribute to healthy weight management” since such beverages are calorie-free. Each of the complaints note that:
“… while touting [Diet Pepsi/Diet Coke/Diet Dr Pepper] as ‘diet,’ and containing zero calories, [Pepsi/Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper] deceptively omitted material information, namely that despite its lack of calories, the consumption of [Diet Pepsi/Diet Coke/Diet Dr Pepper] can lead to weight gain and contribute to metabolic disease, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
According to the plaintiffs, they would not have paid the prices they did, or would not have bought the beverages at all had they known the word “diet” was being used in a deceptive way. While each complaint currently has only two plaintiffs, each of the three lawsuits cover a class of consumers living in New York, who between October 16, 2011, and present day purchased Coca-Cola, Pepsi or Dr Pepper brand diet beverages.
Cheated New Yorkers Can Join the Class Action
If you live in the state of New York, and feel one or more of these companies cheated your efforts to improve your health, consider joining the class action. The following attorneys and firms are reportedly working on the three complaints:
- Derek T. Smith and Abraham Z. Melamed of Derek Smith Law Group PLLC
- Jack Fitzgerald, Trevor M. Flynn and Melanie Persinger of The Law Office of Jack Fitzgerald PC
- Andrew Sacks and John Weston of Sacks Weston Diamond LLC
Evan Geffner and Ivan Babsin are named plaintiffs in the complaint against Coca-Cola Co.. Elizabeth Manuel and Vivien Grossman are named in the complaint against Pepsi-Cola Company, and Yasmin Excevarria and Joette Phoneix are named in the suit against Dr Pepper Snapple Group and Dr Pepper/Seven Up, Inc.
You can find copies of the three complaints on ClassAction.org. The plaintiffs, who are seeking a jury trial, are seeking to prevent the defendants from marketing artificially sweetened beverages as “diet,” along with unspecified restitution and damages for the class. They also seek an order “requiring the soda makers to conduct a ‘corrective advertising campaign.’”
Recent Meta-Analysis Again Confirms Artificial Sweeteners Don’t Work as Advertised
Backing up the accusations in the complaints are studies showing aspartame promotes weight gain despite its lack of calories, and that by interfering with metabolism, it also increases the risk for metabolic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. I published these associations in my book “Sweet Deception” over 11 years ago.
One of the most recent of these studies — a scientific review of 37 studies that followed more than 400,000 individuals for an average of a decade — was published this past July in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. As many others before it, this review again linked use of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose to obesity, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and heart problems.
These effects were in part attributed to the sweeteners’ detrimental effects on metabolism, but also on their adverse effects on gut bacteria. According to Dr. Ryan Zarychanski, assistant professor at the University of Manitoba and one of the authors, “We found that data from clinical trials do not clearly support the intended benefits of artificial sweeteners for weight management.”
Research Overwhelmingly Refutes ‘Diet’ Claims
Research over the last 30 years — including several large scale prospective cohort studies, to which you can now add the one just mentioned above — have shown that artificial sweeteners stimulate appetite, increase cravings for carbs, and produce a variety of metabolic dysfunctions that promote fat storage and weight gain. Below is a sampling of studies published through the years that contradict and refute the beverage industry’s claims that diet soda aids weight loss.
Time to End the Deception
At the peak of its popularity in 2005, 3 billion cases of diet soda were sold in one year. Diet soda has since fallen out of favor, with sales dropping by 27 percent (834 million cases) as of 2016. Still, diet soda accounts for 25 percent of the carbonated beverages sold in the U.S. by volume, which means many Americans are still drinking it, and chances are many of them believe they’re making a healthier choice by avoiding regular soda.
Unfortunately, the evidence suggests otherwise. When you add together the various routes of harm — from confusing your body’s metabolism to altering your gut bacteria for the worse — it would appear artificial sweeteners have likely played a role in worsening the obesity and diabetes epidemics since their emergence. A significant part of their allure is the idea that they can allow you to indulge in something sweet without suffering weight gain and related repercussions.
After all, “diet” refers to something that will help you lose weight (or help you maintain a good figure), doesn’t it? The idea of guilt-free indulgence has also been part of diet soda marketing for years.
Even in cases where it’s not explicitly stated that diet soda will help you lose weight, the industry has diligently “educated” the public about the equally erroneous idea that weight loss is a matter of “energy balance,” and to lose weight, you have to cut calories and expend more calories through exercise. The energy balance myth does nothing if not support the consumption of diet beverages as a means to lose weight by cutting calories.
Reclaim Your Health by Ditching Artificially Sweetened ‘Diet’ Foods
I strongly recommend avoiding all artificial sweeteners, not just aspartame, and to read food labels to make sure you’re not inadvertently consuming them. They’re added to some 6,000 different beverages, snacks and food products, so there’s no telling where they might be hiding. For a safer sweetener options, you could use stevia or Lo Han, both of which are natural sweeteners.
Keep in mind that if you struggle with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or extra weight, then you have poor insulin sensitivity and would likely benefit from avoiding ALL sweeteners. Unfortunately, just like sugar, artificial sweeteners can cause you to become addicted to them. If you find you have trouble quitting diet soda or other artificially sweetened products, I suggest trying Turbo Tapping.
This is a version of the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) that is specifically geared toward combating sugar cravings. For instructions, please see the article, “Turbo Tapping: How to Get Rid of Your Soda Addiction.” The video below with EFT practitioner Julie Schiffman also demonstrates how to use EFT to fight food cravings of all kinds. If you still have cravings after trying EFT or Turbo Tapping, you may need to make further changes to your diet. My free nutrition plan can help you do this in a step-by-step fashion.
Last but not least, if you experience side effects from aspartame or any other artificial sweetener, please report it to the FDA (if you live in the United States). It’s easy to make a report — just go to the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator page, find the phone number for your state, and make a call to report your reaction. Also, if you’re a New York resident interested in joining one of the three class-action suits, contact the law firms listed above.
*Article originally appeared at Mercola.