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Ask Tufts Experts December 2017 Issue

Are Diet Drinks with Artificial Sweeteners Bad For You?

Do diet drinks - those flavored with artificial sweeteners - contribute to decreased health in the people who drink them?

[Updated April 30, 2018]

Q: I drink at least several cold diet beverages every day made with artificially sweetened powdered drink mixes, which I have heard can be bad for me. Should I stop drinking diet drinks?

Paul Jacques, DSc, director of Tufts’ HNRCA Nutritional Epidemiology Program, answers: 

A: “A great deal of high-quality evidence shows that sugar-sweetened drinks can be unhealthy. These risks include weight gain, heart disease, diabetes and excess fat in the liver and around certain organs. Drinking artificially sweetened drinks, too, have been linked to some of the same problems as sugary beverages. However, although we can say that people who drink artificially sweetened drinks tend to be more likely to develop health problems, it is not possible to conclusively say that the beverages themselves cause the problems and that you should ban them from your diet.

“It may be, for example, that people who struggle with maintaining a healthy weight, or eat a lower-quality diet, or exercise very little may also consume artificially sweetened drinks in an effort to improve their health.

“When nutritional science is uncertain about health risks of a dietary item, the recommendation is typically to consume that item in moderation—perhaps as a treat a few times a week—while also maintaining a generally healthy eating pattern and lifestyle. This is the case for artificially sweetened beverages, where there is some evidence of risk and little evidence of benefit for healthy individuals.”

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