Many people I know are hysterically opposed to diet soda. I did the research and realized there wasn’t much to their claims.
The nutrition community doesn’t like diet soda. Of all the groups that make dietary recommendations, I can’t find one that lends full-throated support. “Limit low-calorie sodas,” says the American Heart Association, and “stick to water.” The Center for Science in the Public Interest says it’s “best to avoid” artificial sweeteners. The Canadian dietary guidelines discourage them. The U.S. dietary guidelines are decidedly meh. Although added sugar is a top public health concern, diet soda is consistently met with something between distrust and hostility.
Dig into the research, though, and you don’t find a lot of substance. The hostility-to-evidence ratio is way out of whack. What gives?
I’ll try to answer that, but we have to begin with what is arguably the most important thing to know about low-calorie sweeteners: You consume them in teeny tiny quantities. Take sucralose, the ingredient in Splenda. The FDA has determined that the Acceptable Daily Intake (which it derives by determining the safe level and dividing by 100) is 5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. If you weigh 150 pounds, that means you can eat 340 milligrams, the amount in 28 packets of Splenda, every day.
The important number there is 340 milligrams — about a third of a gram. If it were sugar, that would be one-third of a quarter-teaspoon.