Why soda is addictive: sugar and artificial sweeteners


Many people prefer to go for diet soda or light soda when they want to lose weight or control their sugar intake. Instead of buying a normal soda can that is rich in calories because of the high sugar amount, one might choose the alternatives. Coca-cola is famous for its various alternatives to normal soda, including Diet Coke, Coke Zero Sugar or Cola Light. It’s by no means the only company that adopts this strategy. Soda is addictive, no matter the kind. So why is that? Let’s see what differences there are between sugar and artificial sweeteners.

About sugar in soda

A regular can (roughly 300-350 ml) can contain up to 10 teaspoons of sugar. That is obviously more than what an individual should consume each day. The problem is, people usually don’t stop at 300 ml of soda, so the sugar intake ends up being way higher than that.

Sugar activates the reward system of the brain. It is well known that it’s the same reward system that makes drugs so addictive and difficult to stop taking. This is one evident reason why soda is addictive. Once you overwhelm your brain with such a strong dopamine surge in response to the high sugar consumption, it will become very difficult to retrain it. Your brain will demand more of the thing that triggered such a “good” reward response – therefore more sugar.

Artificial sweeteners instead of sugar

As people became more aware of the dangers of excessive sugar consumption, companies scrambled to develop alternatives to the sugar-riddled classic sodas. Obviously, they are multiple factors that contribute to the addictiveness of soda, such as fizz and caffeine. Caffeine by itself is also highly addictive and raises energy levels. However, it would make sense for the addictiveness level to go down when you replace sugar with artificial sweeteners. But it doesn’t.

Sugar is replaced by artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose. Your taste receptors perceive them as sugar and the same response is triggered in the brain. Therefore, when it comes to sugar addiction, this change doesn’t help at all. This beverage is addictive even when it contains no sugar and only has artificial sweeteners because your brain doesn’t make the difference.  Although when there is no spike in real sugar, your response might be stronger than normal. Your brain could crave sugar even more because of this.

Therefore, now we know that both sugar and artificial sweeteners trigger essentially the same destructive mechanism. It goes without saying that one should limit soda consumption of any type. As it stands, any type of soda seems to be addictive in the end and the bad effects don’t stop there. Aside from hijacking your brain, you might be at higher risk for obesity, diabetes, dementia, and heart disease if you regularly drink it. It might be better to find another beverage that is healthy. It might be worth considering just drinking water.


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