Not-so-sweet news on diet drinks 

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Why are diet-soda sales tumbling two to three times faster than sales of sugary fizzy drinks in America? Could be thanks to a supersize helping of negative news, as more and more reports uncap the facts that no-calorie sweeteners may not help your diet and instead could boost your risk for diabetes, heart disease and extra pounds.

No wonder one major soda maker has gone on the defensive, recently airing new ads touting calorie-free cola as an ally in the battle of the bulge. If your enthusiasm for artificial sweeteners has gone flat or if you're worried about mounting evidence that this phony sweet has downsides, you're not alone. (And BTW, you can quit. Dr. Mike quit his huge diet-cola habit cold turkey three years ago, switching to coffee, caffeinated water and plain water to wet his whistle.)

On the surface, diet sodas look like a dream come true. Flavor and fizz, without all that high- fructose corn syrup and calories. The Food and Drug Administration has approved six non-nutritive sweeteners for use in foods and drinks — aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal), acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One), neotame (used in commercial food products), saccharin (Sweet'N Low, Sugar Twin), a stevia extract called rebaudioside A (Truvia, PureVia) and sucralose (Splenda, Nevella).

Yet even with FDA approval, conflicting and often-bothersome research about calorie-free sweeteners keeps bubbling to the surface. The latest? Evidence from human studies shows that artificially sweetened drinks are associated with weight gain in adults and teens, and raise risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Some data even suggest that these zero-calorie sips could double the risk for metabolic syndrome, a huge risk factor for diabetes and heart disease. Other recent reports show consumption is linked to higher rates of depression. And in one study, people who drank diet sodas had a 70 percent greater increase in waist circumference over a few years compared to those who skipped soft drinks.

One reason diet sodas may backfire in an overall diet is that it's easy to justify rewarding yourself with a cookie or fries or a second slice of pizza because you've eliminated hundreds of calories by choosing diet beverages over regular drinks. That's called compensation. And to be fair, it doesn't always happen.

Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Dr. Michael Roizen is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to www.sharecare.com.

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