I hate to break it to you: just because a product name has “Diet” in its name, does not mean it’s healthier for you. When we think of a “diet,” we think in terms of its secondary definition: “a special course of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons.” In fact, the main definition of the word “diet,” according to the Free Merriam-Webster online dictionary is “food and drink regularly provided or consumed.” Using that extremely broad definition, it’s no wonder major companies feel justified in promoting their products in that way: the word “diet” does not mean “healthy,” it can simply refer to “regularly consumed!”
My main gripe with this word is its use in conjunction with the drinks we drink. People feel less guilty when they drink “diet” cola. At my human services job, the individuals I service are pushed into drinking “diet” sodas and using artificial sweeteners in their coffee, all out of the pretense of “health.”
What people don’t realize when using these products is that they are often produced using an artificial sweetener called aspartame. Aspartame is branded under names like NutraSweet and Equal. Although it is FDA approved, the Merriam-Webster dictionary cautions that aspartame is a synthetic (read:chemical) sweetener that is 150-200 times sweeter than normal sugar and that is “controversial” in terms of its consequences for human health.
While doing research into the realities of aspartame, I stumbled onto Janet Starr Hull’s website, the creator of the Aspartame Detox Program ( I don’t know about you guys, but anytime an edible substance necessitates a “Detox” program, I get a little nervous. I mean, you never see Detox programs for over-consumption of carrots or kale, do you?). On the website, there is a chart of different complaints submitted to the FDA for aspartame side effects. Just in one year, 1995, there were 1847 complaints of headache, 735 complaints of dizziness, 330 complaints of diarrhea, and many, many more. Diet soft drinks were the primary culprit, responsible for 3021 complaints. Keep in mind, these were just complaints from those with enough wherewithal to formally complain to the FDA. What about all those who suffered in silence?
Drinking “diet” (whatever that means) drinks can become so ingrained in a person’s routine that the idea of giving it up seems ludicrous. But what about healthy, fun substitutes? How about brewing your own iced tea at home and sweetening it with honey or agave nectar? How about trying a soda that’s naturally sweetened, free from chemicals mass produced in factories? Don’t take my word for it. Do your own research on the reported side effects of artificial sweeteners to determine if these chemicals are wreaking havoc on your body.
We’re all on a “diet,” all right, but what definition do you choose? Will you choose your diet based on the broad definition of a misused word, or will you choose it to be based on what a diet actually means for your health and well-being?