Thank you for your question! The diet-vs-regular soda debate rages on,
but hopefully the info I've uncovered will help to shed some light.
As you implied, the debate mainly comes down to sugar vs. potential
side effects of artificial sweeteners. So what are the facts? Well, a
can of regular soda typically contains about ten teaspoons of sugar
and 150 calories, and excessive consumption is widely cited by experts
as contributing to childhood obesity. In addition, the high
concentration of sugar in regular soda is conducive to tooth decay. A
recent article in The Dallas Morning News lays it out in black and
white in a piece titled "Soft drinks a factor for fat youth"
"Today, the biggest single source of calories in the American diet is
fizzy soft drinks. The average teenage boy will get 15 teaspoons of
sugar a day just from these drinks, according to one report...Medical
researchers watching this trend say the growing fondness for sweetened
drinks may be one of the major forces behind children's rates of
obesity, diabetes and tooth decay."
An article on KidsHealth.org makes the following claims:
- "Consuming one 12-ounce (355-milliliter) sweetened soft drink per
day increases a child's risk of obesity by 60%."
- "Drinking too many sweetened caffeinated drinks could lead to dental
cavities (or caries) from the high sugar content and the erosion of
the enamel of the teeth from the acidity"
( "Caffeine and your child,"
Given such information, substitution of diet soda would seem a logical
choice. But what about the purported side effects of sugar substitutes
like aspartame, the artifical sweetener most commonly used in diet
Here's what Health Canada has to say on the subject:
"There is no evidence to suggest that the consumption of foods
containing [aspartame], according to the provisions of the Food and
Drug Regulations and as part of a well-balanced diet, would pose a
health hazard to consumers. In addition, other scientific advisory
bodies such as the Scientific Committee for Food of the European
Community, and the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) of
the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health
Organization have reviewed all the available safety studies and have
found aspartame to be safe."
A concerned parent posed a question much like yours to pediatric
expert Dr. Alan Greene. It's reproduced on his website
"My son likes to drink soft drinks. I allow him one per day. I always
buy the caffeine-free variety, but I'm wondering what your opinion is
on artificial sweeteners and kids. Which is "less evil," artificial
sweeteners or sugar?"
Dr. Greene's answer: "The best research on NutraSweet (aspartame) has
not shown any conclusive problems. In the body, it breaks down into
two amino acids that are naturally a part of the diet. Sugar is loaded
with calories and it puts stress on the body's mechanisms for
regulating energy levels...If choosing between the two soda
possibilities, I would opt for the artificially sweetened soda."
Dr. Donald Hensrud of the Mayo Clinic had this to say in an August 2005 column
"There seems to be a lingering perception that nonnutritive sweeteners
are bad for you. But research hasn?t shown any significant health
concerns. In 1977, the FDA proposed a ban on saccharin because of a
suspected link to cancer in rats. It turned out that the research was
flawed. There?s no credible evidence that saccharin or other
nonnutritive sweeteners cause cancer."
He does, however, include the following precautions:
- "People with phenylketonuria (PKU), a rare genetic metabolism
disorder, should avoid aspartame because of possible health risks."
- "Even though data shows nonnutritive sweeteners are safe, it may be
prudent to limit how often you give them to children. These sweeteners
have been part of our food supply for only a relatively short time.
Children are more susceptible to any potential effects, and research
hasn?t specifically focused on their effects on children."
The FDA Consumer magazine, in its May-June 2005 issue, simply
recommends chossing "diet soda, low-fat or fat-free milk, water,
flavored water, or 100 percent fruit juice" as alternatives to regular
So while the final choice is yours, it seems that given the
association between regular soda and tooth decay/obesity and the lack
of scientific evidence that artifical sweeteners are harmful, diet
soda may be a better option for your child provided it continues to be
consumed in moderation.
You may also wish to check out the following links:
"Do Artificial Sweeteners Present Health Risks?" on JunkScience.com, a
website created by FoxNews.com columnist Steven J. Milloy
< http://www.junkscience.com/may03/wsj-sweeteners.htm >
"Soda Consumption Puts Kids At Risk For Obesity, Diabetes,
Osteoporosis, And Cavities"
< http://www.publichealthadvocacy.org/resources/Soda%20Fact%20Sheet11.04.pdf >
"Sugar Substitute" on Wikipedia
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugar_substitute >
The following search strings were helpful in finding your answer:
regular versus diet soda
diet vs regular soda better
All the best!