Diet soda is one of the most popular beverages worldwide, and people love that it contains zero calories, but is diet soda bad for you? For people hoping to control their sugar or calorie intake, diet sodas seem like the perfect solution. You get all of the flavor with, apparently, none of the negative side effects or weight gain that you could expect from non-diet soda.
But is diet soda really as great as it seems? Or, is diet soda bad for you?
While diet soda might seem like an ideal way to curb late-night snacking cravings or reduce your calorie intake, it’s not nutritious. Though research into just how bad diet soda might be for you is still ongoing, the current evidence suggests it may be worth monitoring your intake a little more carefully.
If research can’t yet conclude the answer to the question, is diet soda bad for you? You may be safest drinking it in moderation. Below is some more information about diet soda that might help you decide whether you should be drinking it:
Diet Soda: The Nutritional Details
Diet sodas are often considered a “healthy” alternative to regular sodas because the diet versions of popular sodas cut calories and sugar from the standard formula. However, the absence of sugar and calories doesn’t mean diet soda is a healthy drink. The absence of vitamins, minerals or other nutritious components make diet soda a drink that can’t be called ‘healthy’.
Diet sodas generally include a number of artificial sweeteners and artificial flavors to balance the effects of removing sugar, and ensure you still enjoy a delightful taste.
Diet soda is essentially a mixture of natural or artificial sweetener, carbonated water, flavors, colors, and other food additives. It typically has very few or no calories, but no significant nutrition, either.
For instance, a can of diet coke includes no protein, sugar, fat, or calories, but it does have 40mg of sodium. Though ingredients differ for each drink, you can expect a combination of:
- Carbonated water: Usually made by dissolving carbon dioxide into water.
- Artificial sweeteners: Such as stevia, sucralose, saccharine, or aspartame.
- Acids: Citric acids, phosphoric and malic acid for tartness. (Can cause tooth enamel erosion)
- Artificial colors: Caramels, anthocyanins, and carotenoids.
- Artificial flavors: Tastes taken from fruits, herbs, berries, and other substances.
- Preservatives: Such as potassium benzoate.
- Caffeine: Some diet sodas may include caffeine for an energy boost.
Diet Soda and Weight Loss: Can Drinking Diet Soda Curb Hunger?
One of the main reasons people switch to diet soda over “regular soda”, is to lose weight. The fewer calories you consume, and the more you burn, the faster you’ll reach your weight goals. Some people also believe drinking diet soda helps to curb their hunger – making it an ideal alternative to a snack.
The research into this concept is conflicting. Some reports have championed diet soda as a powerful weight loss tool. According to the University of Colorado, people who drank diet beverages lost an average of 44% more than the control group. Additionally, more than half of the participants in the diet drink group (64%), lost at least 5% of their body weight.
The researchers suggested diet beverages could potentially help people to lose weight by causing a feeling of fullness, generally prompted by the carbonation in the stomach. The diet soda drinkers in this study also achieved some other major benefits, such as reductions in LDL (bad) cholesterol.
However, while some studies are positive, others indicate diet soda could increase our risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and weight gain. Scientists suggest while some people do feel more satisfied after drinking diet soda, others may have an increased appetite.
This is because some of the ingredients in diet soda, such as aspartame or saccharine, can increase your hunger hormones (ghrelin and leptin), and make you crave more sweet food. Certain researchers even theorize drinking a huge amount of diet sodas could alter taste receptors and cause complications with your weight management long-term.
Diet Soda and the Potential for Weight Gain
Though diet soda doesn’t contain any calories or sugars, it can still trigger dopamine responses in the brain and cause us to seek out more sweetness for an ongoing boost. There’s also a risk consumers might drink more diet soda than they should, because of the perception that these drinks are healthy.
With regular sodas, we know we’re drinking a lot of sugar, and are generally reminded to control our intake. With diet sodas, we feel less guilty when drinking an additional bottle or can.
Not all studies support the idea that diet soda causes weight gain. According to some reports, replacing sugar-sweetened drinks with diet soda can significantly improve weight loss. Though there’s also some bias in the literature to be aware of.
Studies specifically funded by the artificial sweetener industry tend to have better outcomes than non-industry studies, which may undermine the results.
From a weight management perspective, diet soda might be particularly problematic for children. One study found the intake of artificially sweetened drinks during pregnancy is associated with a higher risk of childhood obesity.
Is Diet Soda Bad For You? The Potential Dangers of Diet Soda
Limited credible research means most scientists and doctors are still exploring the potential “dangers” of diet soda. One potential risk could be an increased risk of diabetes. A study into women found that the women drinking artificially sweetened drinks were 21% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
Notably, this is still half the risk associated with traditional sodas, indicating the best option is to simply avoid both beverages. Other studies have also found diet soda isn’t associated with an increased risk of diabetes.
A review of four studies further discovered a serving of artificially-sweetened beverage each day leads to a 9% higher risk of blood pressure.
Because most of the studies into diabetes and blood pressure have been observational, it’s worth noting the connection could come from another factor.
Drinking diet soda may also be linked to an increased risk of chronic kidney disease. Compared with those who consumed less than one glass of diet soda a week, people who drank 7 glasses a week had almost double the risk of developing kidney disease.
Researchers believe the higher risk of kidney disease may come from the increased phosphorus content, which increases the acid impact on the kidney. Interestingly, however, other studies have reported the high malate and citrate content of some diet sodas could help treat kidney stones.
Other researchers suggest some people drinking high levels of diet soda may be attempting to compensate for other dietary and lifestyle choices, such as eating a lot of red meat or refined carbs.
Other Potential Effects of Diet Soda
The myriad of potential benefits and risks of diet sodas is far more complex than most people realise. Many studies have contrasting evidence, indicating a need for further, more comprehensive study.
A Norwegian study found the intake of artificially-sweetened drinks was associated with 11% higher risk of pre-term delivery. However, another report found no association between diet cola and pre-term delivery in a similar study.
Other effects of diet sodas under investigation include:
- Fatty liver reductions: Some studies show switching traditional soda with diet soda can reduce fat in the liver.
- Reduced heartburn: Compared to standard sugary drinks, some studies indicate diet soda is less likely to make heartburn or acid reflux worse.
- Changes to the gut microbiome: Some experts believe artificial sweeteners may prompt changes in the gut flora, leading to reduced blood sugar control and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes in some individuals.
- Increased risk of osteoporosis: Consumption of both regular and diet cola has been linked to the loss of bone mineral in women, but not in men.
- Tooth decay: Regular soda and diet soda are both associated with high levels of dental erosion due an acidic PH level.
(You can find out if you’re genetically at higher risk for tooth decay with a CircleDNA test.)
Diet Soda and Intermittent Fasting: The Connection
Intermittent fasting is a diet that has helped many people lose weight, because after hours without any food or calories, your body will exhaust its sugar stores – and start burning fat. This means that while you’re fasting, you’re more likely to burn fat.
One reason diet sodas are popular is many people mistakenly believe they offer an alternative to drinking water when fasting. A fasting period requires you to avoid all caloric intake for a specific period of time. However, only beverages with absolutely no calories or artificial sweeteners will preserve your fast.
This means that diet soda will break the fast regardless of whether or not it contains calories, because of the artificial sweeteners it contains. If you’re intermittent fasting, the only beverages that don’t break the fast are plain herbal teas, black coffee, or water.
Even if a diet soda claims to have no calories, it’s still problematic from an intermittent fasting perspective, because the diet soda tricks your body into thinking it’s no longer fasting. First, carbonation in a diet soda can spike ghrelin (a hunger hormone) levels in the human body.
Secondly, some sweeteners in diet soda cause insulin spikes in the blood, which makes your body think it’s out of fasting mode.
In other words, as soon as you drink your diet soda, your body moves into a new state, and you’re no longer fasting, even if you don’t eat anything for another several hours. At the same time, it also makes it more likely you’ll want to eat or snack earlier than you should, because of the spike in hormones.
As mentioned above, there’s evidence that artificial sweeteners including aspartame and sucralose will also cause a rise in insulin due to a chemical response in the brain, similar to when we consume sugar. This could mean drinking artificial sodas will immediately put you on the path to cravings, excessive eating, and weight gain.
Is Diet Soda Bad for You? The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that drinking diet soda is not as bad for you as drinking the non-diet version that’s full of sugar – but this doesn’t mean diet soda is healthy.
Ultimately, the research into diet soda and its positive or negative impact on the body has produced a lot of conflicting evidence. Much of the research available is observational, making it difficult to separate causation from correlation.
While some studies indicate diet sodas could be a positive alternative to traditional soda for those in search of better wellbeing, others indicate the exact opposite.Either way, diet soda does not add any nutritional value to your diet, and it can’t compare with good old-fashioned water for quenching your thirst.