Anna Hunter reports on the bitter truth about artificial sweeteners - is it time to ditch the fizz for good?

Any products in this article have been selected editorially however if you buy something we mention, we may earn commission

Dismal news for Diet Coke devotees everywhere: a large US study has linked the frequent consumption of artificially sweetened beverages to a raised risk of depression. Although more studies are required to prove the findings, it's certainly making us here at GTG HQ feel a bit, well, flat.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Environmental House Sciences studied 250,000 people in the US aged between 50 and 71, and found that those consuming four or more glasses of diet fizzy drink or artificially sweetened juice a day increased their risk of depression by a third. Not a happy stat, we're sure you'll agree.

Experts reiterate that other factors such as stressful life events and a family history of depression could have contributed to the researchers' findings - however, the mere suggestion of diet pop downers has us recoiling from the ring-pulls.

Aspartame, an artificial sweetener used in such drinks, has had a bad rap ever since it was approved as a food additive over 35 years ago. The trigger of many a health scare, it has been linked to cancer, premature births and even multiple sclerosis.

Leading natural health expert and pharmacist Shabir Daya  is not surprised by the results of this latest research: 'It is theorised that the phenylalanine in aspartame may increase dopamine levels in the brain, which could lead to depression and headaches.’

Worse still, our favourite ‘guilt-free’ fizz may not be so light and diet-friendly after all, as Shabir also reveals that he is not an advocate of artificial sweeteners at all. ‘Some studies seem to indicate that these sweeteners can actually cause weight gain, increase cravings for carbohydrate foods and may stimulate fat storage,’ the expert tells us. It looks like a case of hero to zero for Coca Cola et al; our pop is pious no longer.

We should probably all admit that we had an inkling the fizzy stuff wasn't too good for us anyway. By all means enjoy the bubbles occasionally, but there's no time like the present to break a habit.

Absolve your sweetener sins and wean yourself off of the cola by sipping sparkling water with a splash of fruit juice or coconut water , as recommended by our very own Susannah Taylor in her Fad Hag  column. We'd rather drink from coconuts than cans anyway - far more cosmopolitan, no?

Anna Hunter