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Can diet colas raise your blood sugar levels too? New study shows rise in saliva insulin

Can diet colas be as harmful for you as regular colas? A recently published small study of 15 healthy individuals shows that the insulin levels in their saliva shot up an hour after consuming both diet and regular cola. The study also recorded the secretion of one of the most common artificial sweeteners, aspartame, in the saliva.

With very few participants and no data on blood glucose levels, Dr Ambrish Mithal, chairman of endocrinology and diabetes at Max Healthcare says, “The study doesn’t really prove anything. For years now, researchers have been trying to develop saliva-based insulin tests because the current tests need a needle prick. However, they are not as accurate as blood tests.” He adds it is also interesting to note that one of the most commonly consumed artificial sweeteners can be measured using a non-invasive saliva-based test.

The spike in the saliva insulin levels, however, gives rise to some questions.

Can diet colas also lead to sugar spikes?

Diet soft drinks are marketed not just to people with diabetes but to all health-conscious individuals. This is because they come with the promise of zero calories and artificial sweetener, usually aspartame, that doesn’t lead to increase in blood glucose levels and consequently doesn’t lead to insulin secretion to control it.

“So, where is the insulin coming from? The diet colas clearly do not contain carbohydrates because they are zero calories. So, is there something else in the colas that’s triggering the response? This may be something we need to study,” asks Dr Mithal. There is evidence to show that some of the artificial sweeteners may lead to increased insulin resistance, he says. A 2017 study in Nature magazine found aspartame can raise glucose levels, possibly by changing the composition of intestinal bacteria.

So, should I have diet or regular colas?

That depends on how much cola you consume. “If a person consumes these drinks regularly, then it is better to pick up a diet cola. When the choice is between a regular cola and a diet version, the latter seems to be better. Of course, no cola would be the best for health,” he says.

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Normal cola contains an extremely high amount of sugar – around 12 spoons in 500 ml – but diet cola promises zero calories. This zero calorie mark is achieved by using artificial sweeteners. “People tend to drink diet colas more because they think they are consuming fewer calories. But this can lead to long-term negative consequences, including insulin resistance and diabetes. Artificial sweeteners are intensely sweet, much more than sugar. So, they make normal sweets taste paler and make you crave for more,” he says. It is better for those with diabetes and the obese to consume only diet cola. For an otherwise healthy individual, a regular once in a while is alright, Dr Mithal says.

Should you take artificial sweeteners in your foods?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) earlier this year warned against using artificial sweeteners as substitutes of sugar for weight loss and preventing lifestyle diseases. While there could be some weight-loss and reduction in body mass index (BMI) in the short-term as the artificial sweeteners bring down the calories consumed. However, in the long run, they have been linked to weight gain, the WHO report says.

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The report cited several studies with low certainty data that linked to an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and mortality in the long run.

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