President Donald Trump drinks 12 cans of Diet Coke each day, according to reports from the New York Times, a habit that may elevate his risk for a wide range of diseases.
That quantity of the artificially-sweetened drink amounts to a ‘mega dose,’ says Harvard nutritionist Dr Vasanti Malik. The President’s health was called into question after observations that his speech seemed slurred on Wednesday during his announcement of Jerusalem as Israel‘s capital.
However, we won’t know how his soda habit – or any others – are affecting Trump’s health until the official physical he announced he’ll get after the new year. Diet soda is still a subject of debate and ongoing study, but research suggests that the contents of the sweet drink can have bitter consequences for heart, gut and dental health, among others.
Donald Trump sips one of his 12 daily Diet Cokes at the Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in New York City in 2016. His intake could put him at dangerously elevated risk for many diseases
A single can of Diet Coke contains no fat, no carbohydrates and no real sugar.
Nutritionists, including Dr Malik advise that it is better than regular sodas and may be helpful to people weaning themselves off of the full-calorie, full-sugar versions, no amount of diet soda is ‘good.’
Instead, its sweet taste is created using aspartame, a sugar substitute that has recently been scrutinized for having potential links to everything from digestive and taste problems to cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
Human studies have looked at links between these diseases and those who drink one or more diet sodas a day, but 12 cans is ‘not really how humans consume,’ says Dr Malik. ‘It would be very hard to do a study asking people to drink 12 a day,’ she says.
Studies in in rats and mice, however, do use a ‘mega dose’ of aspartame to study its possible effects on the brain, heart and digestive system. There are about 180 mg of aspartame in each can of Diet Coke, meaning that the President drinks about 2,160 mg of the sweetener each day.
But, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Trump would have to drink more than 3,750 mg – more than a whole case – of Diet Coke before he was over the recommended daily intake of aspartame.
Compared to sugar-loaded regular sodas, diet drinks might be better ‘okay in the short term,’ but they are ‘actually sweeter than sugar, and might habituate a taste for sweets,’ says Dr Malik.
Super sweet artificial flavors, research has shown, can actually make the brain crave more sweet foods, predisposing habitual soda drinkers like Trump to eat and drink themselves into a pre-diabetic state.
Dr Malik also says that people like Trump, or Karl Lagerfeld, who drinks about 10 cans a day of Diet Coke, are exhibiting ‘addictive’ behavior.
Research also suggests that when we drink diet soda, we think we get away with other bad eating habits, like President’s penchant for McDonald’s.
‘This may be because of what I call the Diet Coke effect, where we feel we’ve been “good” by drinking diet soda so we compensate by ordering the supersize fries,’ says Abbey Sharp, a nutritionist and owner of Abbey’s Kitchen.
Though he remains below the daily aspartame maximum established by the FDA, Trump may well be putting himself at risk for dementia, stroke and Alzheimer’s.
Fellow Diet Coke lover Karl Lagerfeld had his own launch party for Coca Cola Light in 2011 (pictured), and has said he drinks as much as 10 Diet Cokes a day
A recent study found that diet soda drinkers were almost three times more likely to develop either dementia or stroke. Studies have not yet shown how the substance interacts with the body to cause these disorders, but their commonalities suggest that sweeteners may constrict blood vessels.
If drinking one or more can daily puts you at three times the risk, then 12 could put a person at 36 times the risk of disease that can wreak havoc on the memory, body and even be fatal.
In the last several years, evidence has increasingly suggested the importance of gut microbes to many aspects of our overall health, including our risk for diseases affecting those over 65, such as President Trump.
Aspartame, in turn, may harm the delicate balance of our gut flora.
‘New research has linked artificial sweeteners to changes in your microbiome and that has been linked to a wide range of diseases like diabetes, and metabolic syndrome,’ says Sharp.
‘While I’m not counselling Mr Trump, I would venture to say that his BMI (and alleged eating habits) put him at risk for these chronic diseases as is, so any changes to his microbiome that exacerbates this may put him at greater risk,’ she says.